methyl bromide victim in Los Angeles

Anyone with information on state of the art treatment for methyl bromide
poisoning can email Liv55@aol.com
a friend of Sandra Mero.

Illness Probed for Possible Pesticide Link

    Health: Officials are trying to determine if woman now in coma was
overcome by methyl bromide fumigation of neighboring building.

 By STEVE BERRY, Times Staff Writer
LA Times Saturday, March 22, 1997

State investigators were trying Friday to determine if a 36-year-old woman
who has been in a coma for two weeks was gassed when a pesticide that
environmentalists have been trying to outlaw for more than a decade was
used to fumigate a building next to her home.

The case of Sandra Mero of Toluca Lake promises to renew an intense,
years-long debate over use of the highly toxic gas methyl bromide.

Environmentalists have repeatedly tried to ban the chemical, which has been
blamed by state authorities for 18 deaths and hundreds of illnesses over
the last 13 years, but have been unable to overcome resistance from the
agricultural and pest control industries, supported by Gov. Pete Wilson.

Mero, an assistant for an entertainment company, was in critical condition
Friday at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank, a hospital spokeswoman
said. "She is a critically brain-injured young lady fighting for her life,"
said her lawyer, Larry Feldman, who added that he is planning to file a

He said that on March 8, the day after the gas was used on a neighboring
building, Mero told several friends by phone that she awoke feeling ill.
She went back to sleep and was found unconscious in her home the next day
by her landlady, Sally Stevens, Feldman said.

Feldman said Mero's home, in a group of buildings in the 10400 block of
West Valley Spring Lane, was connected by seven pipes, one to two inches in
diameter, to the fumigated studio just 15 feet away.

The owner of the fumigation firm involved said Friday that the pipes were
not easily visible in the studio, and that there is no proof that Mero's
coma was caused by methyl bromide.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is investigating the case
for methyl bromide poisoning, said Bob Donley, chief of pesticide
investigations for the county agricultural commissioner's office. No
finding that the gas was involved has been issued.

A woman who would identify herself only as a cousin of Mero named Mary said
at the hospital Friday that Mero's doctor had found 27 parts per million of
methyl bromide in her blood--well above the lethal dose of 24 ppm.

The chemical would have been illegal for use in California if a ban that
was to go into effect in March 1996 had not been delayed by the state
Legislature. Legislators acted at the request of farm groups and Gov.
Wilson, who called a special session of the Legislature to deal with the

Methyl bromide will be outlawed in 2010 in the United States and many other
countries under an international agreement signed in Montreal in 1993
because of fears that it damages the ozone layer, which protects life on
Earth from harmful solar rays.

Environmentalists also paint it as a danger to farm laborers who work with
it and harvest crops in fields where it has been injected into the soil.
The California Legislature acted in 1984 to ban it by 1991, but farmers
complained that the ban would cause about $500 million a year in losses to
strawberry, nut, cherry, nectarine, grape, cotton and vegetable crops.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture estimated potential losses at
$346 million from smaller harvests, plus $241 million in lost exports,
which the department predicted would eliminate 10,000 jobs.

California currently uses more than 20 million pounds of methyl bromide
annually, about one-seventh of worldwide production. About a fifth of the
state's usage goes to fumigate homes and buildings to kill termites and
other pests.

Methyl bromide fumes, which attack the central nervous and respiratory
systems, bring on dizziness, vomiting and disorientation, and have been
associated with birth defects.

State regulators said the deaths attributed to the gas all occurred because
someone--often a homeless person or burglar--entered a structure during
fumigation or during the several days thereafter when buildings are
supposed to remain vacant until the gas dissipates.

Robert Evans, owner of Evans Exterminating Co. of Burbank, which used the
gas on the studio next to Mero's home, said the building was inspected
before fumigation and was completely enclosed with a tent.

He said he did not see the pipes extending from the wall because they were
obstructed by a chair.

"The [pipe] system installed there is so unusual," he said. "I've never
seen conduits run from one structure to another in all of the houses I've

It could not be determined Friday what the pipes were used for, and the
building owner could not be reached for comment.
 Copyright Los Angeles Times
Use of Powerful Insecticide Fills Air With Controversy

    Regulation: Pros and cons of methyl bromide, believed linked to a
Valley coma case, have been argued for years.

 By SHARON BERNSTEIN, Times Staff Writer
LA Times, March 23, 1997

  Even before Sandra Mero of Toluca Lake fell into a coma after alleged
exposure to the fumigant methyl bromide, the highly toxic chemical was the
center of a storm of controversy involving environmentalists, scientists,
politicians and the agriculture and pesticide industries.

  The compound, used on farms to fumigate strawberry fields and in cities
to kill termites, is scheduled to be banned worldwide in 2001 because it
damages the protective ozone layer, but remains in use in California, where
farm and chemical interests are lobbying hard to keep it legal.

  Ironically, methyl bromide might not have been available for use March 8
when Mero was stricken had state lawmakers and Gov. Pete Wilson not
intervened last year to prevent suspension of the chemical's use.

 Methyl bromide kills an average of one person per year in Los Angeles
County, according to a top county pesticide regulator, most of them
burglars or transients who enter houses that are being fumigated.

 Over the years, hundreds of injuries have been attributed to its use on
farms. Mero, 36, appears to have been poisoned in her own home, which was
connected by several pipes to a nearby building that was being fumigated.
She remained in critical condition Saturday night at St. Joseph Medical
Center in Burbank.

 City Councilman John Ferraro has demanded an investigation into Mero's
case, and said Friday that he would ask the council to support better
regulation of the chemical if it is proven to have caused Mero's condition.
County health officials are examining the case, as are state regulators.

 "It's tragic, but it often takes a person with a name and face and a
connection to a community to bring home what the issues are," said
environmentalist Bill Walker, spokesman for the Environmental Working
Group, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has sought to ban methyl

 Mero's case "underscores for people just how dangerous this pesticide is,"
Walker said. "It's very volatile and it's very hard to control."

 Two bills regarding the regulation and possible ban of the compound are
expected to come before the state Legislature this year, and a Ventura
County Grand Jury is studying its impact on homes, schools and day-care
centers that are near strawberry fields where the chemical is used.

 Just last week, a key panel of scientists demanded that state regulators
improve their methods for measuring methyl bromide in the air and consider
restrictions on the chemical's use.

 Still, political views on methyl bromide are so deeply entrenched that
Mero's case has done little to change the views on either side:
Environmentalists say tragedies like Mero's are inevitable, and accuse the
Wilson administration of doing an inadequate job of regulation; regulators
and agricultural interests say her condition is a fluke, caused because
exterminators did not know that her house was connected to a building that
was being fumigated.

 "Something went wrong," said Jim Wells, director of the California
Department of Pesticide Regulation. "There are thousands of methyl bromide
applications across the country, and people are not made ill.

 "Methyl bromide is an acutely toxic pesticide. . . . That's why it is a
home fumigant and that's why we're so careful about how we control its
use," he said.

 He compared Mero's situation to the cases of people who are killed by
carbon monoxide poisoning from kerosene heaters. "I don't think you should
use [Mero's case] to ban methyl bromide just like you wouldn't ban all use
of kerosene heaters," Wells said. "These things are all accidents."

 The pest control and agriculture industries have long argued for methyl
bromide's continued use, saying a ban would result in millions of dollars
in increased costs for termite extermination and put crops at risk.

 Bowing to those concerns in a special session called by the governor last
year, the Legislature gave methyl bromide manufacturers a grace period to
complete health studies mandated by state law. Without the extension,
methyl bromide use would have been suspended for failure to complete the
studies on time.

 "We have very strict regulations in California on how and where methyl
bromide can be used," said Bob Krauter, spokesman for the California Farm
Bureau, a business group. "We have very good safety records."

 The state requires a buffer zone of 30 feet between private homes and
fields where methyl bromide is applied. In 1991, the state required that
concentrations of the fumigant be lowered when it is used for termite
control in buildings, and it now is used in only about 15% of structural
 But some lawmakers, environmentalists and a panel of the state's top
scientists have questioned whether the Department of Pesticide Regulation
has done enough.

 "I am concerned about the situation where methyl bromide fumigations occur
very close to schools and homes," said James Pitts, an atmospheric chemist
at the University of California at Irvine who chairs the California
Scientific Review Panel for Toxic Contaminants.

 Last Wednesday, Pitts said, state regulators presented the group with a
list of contaminants scheduled for review and possible elimination in
California, and methyl bromide was very low on the list. The panel, which
is set up to review the scientific grounds for conclusions made by
regulators, asked that the fumigant be made a priority.

 "I felt that methyl bromide should be very high on that list," Pitts said.

 Assemblyman Fred Keeley (D-Boulder Creek) has held up hearings on the
pesticide regulation department's budget in a key Assembly subcommittee
that he chairs. "I'm holding up their budget until I become convinced
they're doing a better job," Keeley said in a telephone interview.

 "I'm concerned about their pesticide monitoring program" and compliance
with Proposition 65, which requires warnings to the public about hazardous

 Keeley said he is opposed to a plan to phase out a tax on the chemical
industry that supports pesticide regulation, arguing that the money could
be used to seek alternatives to methyl bromide. He plans to introduce a
bill to continue the tax, which is scheduled to be eliminated under a
sunset provision later this year.

 State Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford) recently held oversight hearings on the
pesticide agency, and will soon introduce legislation to restrict use of
methyl bromide, according to Kip Lipper, Sher's chief of staff.

 "There's a big storm brewing," Lipper said. "There's a lot of concern
specifically related to methyl bromide. You have a very clear conflict
between the people who use this pesticide and those who feel state controls
don't adequately protect people."
 Copyright Los Angeles Times

Kert Davies
Environmental Working Group
1718 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 600
Washington, D.C.  20009
kert@ewg.org  WWWeb: http://www.ewg.org
202-667-6982  fax 202-232-2592
Any opinions expressed are mine and not my employer's.