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PANUPS: Methyl Bromide Drift

                         P A N U P S
                   Pesticide Action Network 
                        North America
                       Updates Service
                   EMAIL: panna@panna.org

September 4, 1997

California Agency Failed to Act after Study Showed Dangers of 
Methyl Bromide Drift 

One year before Sandra Mero of Los Angeles died from being 
poisoned by methyl bromide, state officials knew the toxic 
pesticide could drift from buildings being fumigated and 
endanger people in neighboring houses -- but did nothing with 
the information, according to an investigation by a coalition 
of groups including Californians for Pesticide Reform, 
California Public Interest Research Group, California Rural 
Legal Assistance, Environmental Working Group and PAN North 

Mero, 36, died in a Burbank hospital March 25, 1997, two 
weeks after she fell into a coma when methyl bromide drifted 
through empty pipes into her apartment from a nearby 
fumigated building. She was the 19th person to die of methyl 
bromide poisoning in California since 1984 -- the same year 
California's Legislature enacted a ban on the chemical, which 
has since been postponed three times after heavy lobbying by 
chemical and agribusiness interests.

On March 20, 1996, eight days after California Governor Pete 
Wilson signed a bill overturning the state ban on methyl 
bromide, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation 
(DPR) published an internal report showing that when the 
poison gas is used to fumigate homes, unsafe levels of 
hazardous vapors can drift through empty pipes into 
neighboring houses. The study also found that methyl bromide 
levels outside homes under fumigation can be more than seven 
times higher than the state safety standard, and that methyl 
bromide can be detected inside closed houses up to 100 feet 
away from the fumigated structure, even if the two buildings 
are not connected by pipes of any kind. 

DPR filed the report away as part of an ongoing study, not 
advising state lawmakers, local officials or fumigation 
companies of the threat to public health. The report came to 
light after Assemblyman Fred Keeley, chair of a subcommittee 
that oversees the agency's budget, requested that DPR 
Director James Wells turn over documents on methyl bromide 
use and regulation. 

In an interview two days before Mero died, DPR's Wells 
acknowledged that methyl bromide is "acutely toxic," adding, 
"That's why we're so careful about how we control its use." 
But an investigation by the coalition found no evidence the 
agency had tightened controls on structural fumigation with 
methyl bromide after the 1996 study, or since Mero's death. 

"This is particularly damning lack of truthfulness on their 
part," said Anne Schonfield, PAN North America. "They had 
evidence that they knew was critical for the public to know, 
and yet they kept it secret."

According to the state's Pesticide Use Reporting database, 
almost 600,000 pounds of methyl bromide were used to fumigate 
California homes and businesses in 1995, with the great 
majority applied in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The 
state database does not disclose the number of fumigations, 
but the coalition estimates approximately 10,000 homes were 
fumigated in 1995. 

Instead of using methyl bromide, there are many alternative 
treatment methods for structural pest control. Many pest 
control companies have switched to non-toxic alternatives 
like cooled liquid nitrogen that kills insects by freezing 
them. Safe use of cooled liquid nitrogen requires careful 
adherence to safety precautions, but does not present drift 
or chronic toxicity problems.

Other pest control operators use propane heaters that raise 
house temperatures to 150 degrees and non-toxic dusts that 
kill pests through dehydration. These and other non-toxic 
alternatives are much safer than chemical pesticides (such as 
sulfuryl fluoride) that are often used in structures instead 
of methyl bromide.

A complete copy of the report is available online at 

Source: "Internal State Study Showed Danger of Drifting 
Fumigant -- One Year Before Victim Died of Methyl Bromide 
Poisoning," Californians for Pesticide Reform and 
Environmental Working Group. August 20, 1997. 
Contact: PANNA.

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