Gov. Pete Wilson on Tuesday signed into law permission for California growers to continue using the powerful soil fumigant methyl bromide through December 1997, despite concerns about the pesticide's safety.
The Republican governor, flanked by legislators representing agricultural districts and top farm lobbyists, said, "There was an urgent and grave need to act on this matter."
A ban on the use of methyl bromide was scheduled to take effect at the end of the month. Wilson's signature on the bill, enacted by a special session of the Legislature called to deal with the issue, extends the use of the compound for 21 months.
The head of the United Farm Workers denounced Wilson's action, saying the chemical threatens the lives of laborers and consumers. "It is a mark of the awesome power of the agribusiness and pesticide industries that Gov. Wilson called the Legislature into special session and signed the bill," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez.
Wilson said failure to use the fumigant would result in nearly $350 million annually in agricultural product losses and the loss of 10,000 jobs.
Methyl bromide, used to rid the soil of worms that destroy the roots of more than 60 types of crops, is pumped into the ground before they are planted. The crops include strawberries, cherries, walnuts, grapes, nursery plants, almonds and sweet potatoes. The chemical is also used to fumigate shipping warehouses to prevent pests from traveling in or out of the state.