State Slaps Sudden Ban on Widely Used Crop Pesticide


The state Department of Food and Agriculture on Friday slapped an immediate statewide ban on use of a major pesticide that is applied on tens of thousands of acres of crops. The action came after monitoring stations in Merced County detected unusually high levels of the cancer-causing chemical in the air.

Known by the trade name Telone, the pesticide is widely used to fumigate the soil before planting cotton, tomatoes, carrots, sugar beets, broccoli and other crops.

Two of five monitoring stations in Merced County are located at schools in the rural communities of Hilmar and Stevenson, and another is located on a hospital roof in Merced.


The Food and Agriculture Department said it was unusual for it to impose an immediate ban on a pesticide. Usually at least several days pass before a such a ban takes effect.

Despite the dramatic action, the state emphasized that there is no danger to consumers. The pesticide, which is known to cause cancer in laboratory animals, is not applied directly on the crops themselves and no residues have been detected on food.

The department was unable to say what effect, if any, airborne concentrations of the pesticide might have on either residents of the area or workers in the field. But officials said they were more concerned about long-term, chronic exposure than any short-term effects.

Typically, the pesticide is injected into the soil about 10 days before planting to kill nematodes, various diseases and insects. The soil is compacted at the time and not tilled until the crops are planted.

The sudden and unexpected decision Friday to indefinitely suspend use of the product, also known as 1-3-dichloropropene, could have serious economic consequences for the state’s multibillion-dollar agricultural industry.

“It’s very serious,” said Jim Wells, assistant chief of the Food and Agriculture Department’s pest management division. “I expect this to be not a very popular decision. It could be critical because of the lack of alternatives.”


Veda Federighi, a spokesman for the department, said the crops affected by the ban are valued “in the billions of dollars.”