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Pesticides in Anderson Valley

In Mendocino County’s plethora of overpriced restaurants, hardly a night goes by when there isn’t some gourmand taking a sip of chardonnay and then rhapsodizing… going on… and on… and on about the delights this alcoholic grape juice is bringing to his oh-so sensitive palate. If only this fatuous hedonist knew; if only he knew…

Let’s look at Anderson Valley’s use of chemicals, using the information from the Mendocino County Ag Department filed under the various right to know laws. The County Ag Department wasn’t very cooperative, but with the help of Supervisor John Pinches (a real people’s politician!) they now better understand their role in making this information available to the public.

For starters I looked at the Pesticide Use Reports for Anderson Valley in 1997, bearing in mind that most of the growers in the Valley are our friends and neighbors and don’t seem intent upon harming us. I don’t think they’d be using so much of these dangerous chemicals if they knew the deleterious effects the stuff may have on their friends, the community, the environment or our children. Often, their only knowledge of the substances they use to more efficiently grow their grapes comes from the manufacturers and salespersons of the chemicals. Some lending institutions require or at least pressure ag borrowers to use chemicals and toxins for “insurance” reasons. And since the government has made little effort to educate the farmers who are not already curious on their own about the hazards and the alternatives, it is up to concerned citizens to form groups, educate each other and teach them. I think most of our friends and neighbors will listen.

Methyl bromide

To begin with: the foundation, in a way, of much of the grape growing business, including in Mendocino County, is death, as in M-E-T-H-Y-L B-R-O-M-I-D-E, which is widely used in Anderson Valley vineyards. Methyl bromide is an acutely toxic chemical used to sterilize fields before grapes are planted. It kills everything — weeds, insects, termites, rodents, nematodes, fungi, mold, soil-borne diseases… even humans if the appliers aren’t careful. Applicators must be licensed, and permits are required before each application. Methyl Bromide is one of the most poisonous chemicals in agriculture, and would have been banned in 1996 if state reps like Senator Mike Thompson had not caved in to wine and strawberry interests. 

Methyl Bromide drifts up to four miles from its application site yet no notice to neighbors is required. After injection of the poison the ground is covered with plastic. After three days, much of the methyl bromide degrades (or dissipates) — about 6-14% per day — whereupon the plastic is pulled, and the remaining poisonous gas rises into the atmosphere, further depleting our fragile ozone layer. 

Its vapor is extremely toxic to a number of body parts, easily absorbed into the lungs, and symptoms can be delayed from 48 hours to months. It can and has killed. Exposure causes lungs to swell, breathing is congested, brains, hearts and spleens hemorrhage, kidneys are damaged, numbness sets in. Exposed skin can be blistered, breathing reduced, itching, nausea, vomiting, and eventually, if not treated, death results. Since it persists for days, it can damage vision, hearing, brain function, and the immune system.

So far there are not enough studies for the EPA to classify methyl bromide, but 20 deaths are known to have been caused by it, mostly workers.

Methyl bromide is scheduled to be banned in the US in 2001 under the Clean Air Act (CAA); by 2015 it is supposed to be banned in all countries. So far the Clean Air Act does not allow for bogus risk/benefit studies which allow use in “essential” or “high benefit” uses. And the CAA does not consider the availability of alternatives. But even if MB weren’t an ozone depleter, it would still be in use, toxic or not. 

According to the County usage data Roederer whose vineyards are outside Philo and Boonville sprayed 2,526 pounds of methyl bromide in 1997.


Although DDT was finally banned in 1972, women with breast cancer today still have 35% higher amounts of DDT than healthy women. It was only banned in the US because of years of scientific research, health and medical research, political and legislative work, etc. And it’s still manufactured here and used outside the US — on imported food. 

After DDT was banned, a few other equally bad but lesser known actors such as lindane, chlorodane, dieldrin, aldrin, heptachlor were also “prohibited” as possible carcinogens. But again, these are still manufactured in the US and used outside the US, also on imported foods. And in spite of its bad record, lindane is still used in anti-lice shampoo, flea dips and collars… Profits come before health.

Prescription drugs must pass rigorous tests to be marketed, chemicals can be manufactured and sold with little study. About 1,000 chemicals enter the market each year with no regulation or testing required. Only about 2% of commercial chemicals have actually been tested for carcinogenicity, and they were not tested in combination (for “synergistic effects”), even though they are typically used in combination with other chemicals. Nor are they tested for endocrine disruption or other health effects. 

In effect, you and I are the guinea pigs. Only if we can prove — after the fact, to a costly high technical and legal standard — that we’re harmed is there even any consideration given to regulation. 

Many of today’s commercial chemicals have their roots in Nazi Germany. Zyklon B and other death camp gases were organophosphates that acted on the nerves of its victims, today’s derivatives include parathion and malathion. 

Another family is phenoxy herbicides. The “Allies” developed these — Agent Orange and its brethren were wartime tools, in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf… Many of the effects are clear, but are still being debated.

The wartime use of these chemicals became the excuse for them to be “grandfathered” into use without testing. No documented unintended harm, so no need to test or regulate. By the 50s pesticides were accepted for all kinds of agriculture and home uses, to get rid of various “pests.” The marketers promise no weeds, no bugs, no bacteria, no disease. Poisons, warning, cautions, yes, but if it reduced pests, it was worth it, and Americans bought it.

Then there are the “inerts,” the stuff in the poison concoction that the manufacturers add to “active” ingredients. Chemical companies are not required to identify the inerts as they are the “active” ingredients. Inerts are not regulated by the EPA at all, much less disclosed. “Trade secrets,” you understand. (Never mind that college chemistry students can use a common mass spectrometer to determine the ingredients.) 

Even though the EPA considers 1400 of these inerts to be biologically active, toxic, or potentially toxic, or of unknown toxicity (there are lots of dangerous categories), and even though some “inerts” are “active ingredients” when used in a similar product, they are still allowed to call them “inert.” Xylene, malathion, kerosene, epoxy resins and sulfuric acid are all considered inert, but they have well known toxic effects. 

The EPA has been sued for their failures to act, malfeasance and name games but the results are few; if regulations are forced on them, enforcement is lax. Timetables for testing are set, then extended, and extended again. Meanwhile, production continues.

The chemical industry, made up primarily of six big manufacturers, makes $29 billion a year from these toxic products. 

There are some Right-To-Know laws. Manufacturers are required to report how much of 654 chemicals are released into the environment. But the info doesn’t get much publicity. And smaller companies are exempt from many of the disclosure laws. Carcinogens which are used in other products aren’t counted. “Self-reporting compliance” is estimated to be maybe 66%. 

You can get the EPA’s “Toxics Release Inventory” by county, though, for what it’s worth. Consider: In the US for 1994 alone the TRI reported 2.26 billion pounds of toxins, 177 million pounds of these were categorized as carcinogenic.

California doesn’t do much better, although there are some additional laws.

Proposition 65, the 1986 “Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,”  requires that certain toxins be identified by a special agency created by the Act, and that warnings be given before they are released. It also supposedly prevents these toxins from entering drinking water. But we know about 66 reproductive toxins identified by the EPA that are not on the Prop. 65 list and have contaminated California drinking water. More than 26 million pounds of these unlisted reproductive toxins were applied as pesticides in California in 1995. Some after the fact regulatory actions were taken, but these toxins are yet to be added to the Prop. 65 list.

By the 70s enough of us were sick or had died of these chemicals to form a basis for study and, after much activist pressure, some epidemiological “studies” were done. Cancer and reproductive system damage was finally measurable. And some toxins are now “known carcinogens” (Class A). Cigarettes, for example. Then there’s Class B, “probable carcinogens,” based primarily on animal studies. Many “B’s” are just “A’s” waiting for research (and funding) to prove that they are “A’s.” There’s a long line. Class C’s are “possible carcinogens,” waiting to be studied further for upgrade to B’s or A’s. Class D chemicals are those without any data to categorize them as C or above. And Class E chemicals are considered non-carcinogens, even though they’ve never been tested in conjunction with other common chemicals. 

Most of the research funding, of course, comes — when it does come — directly from the chemical industry itself. Some is from the government but the capacity is limited and the industry has significant influence on government studies as well.

Citizen groups who watch these things wonder why the EPA bothers to rate these chemicals at all, since even the A’s and B’s are in full commercial production, release and use. 

These chemical companies and the billionaires behind them are using us as testing grounds and charging us for the privilege. 

Some chemicals are so dangerous that they are called “Restricted Use Pesticides.” They are so dangerous that they can only be purchased and used by certified applicators — i.e., farmhands with a little training, some of whom can’t even read the cryptic, technical instructions in English.

Closer to home, Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics recently published “Time for a Change: Pesticides and Wine Grapes in Sonoma and Napa Counties.” In it Clary traced 12 commonly used grape growing pesticides and their levels of applications and by whom, limiting her study to vineyards over 200 acres in those two counties. All but sulfur were possible, or probable carcinogens. And the amounts being used were astounding — and scary.

Although a dangerous chemical called “glyphosate” is the active ingredient in RoundUp, it is actually the least of our worries. An “inert” in RoundUp called POEA (polyoxyethyleneamine) is included as a “surfactant” to make it stick to whatever it’s sprayed on. POEA is contaminated in the manufacturing process with 1,4 dioxane, a “probable human carcinogen,” and four times as acutely toxic to fish as the glyphosate itself. So there’s no POEA in “Romeo,” a related pond herbicide. When glyphosate and POEA are mixed, as in RoundUp, it’s three times as lethal to lab rats as either chemical by itself. This suggests a synergistic effect that is yet to be fully researched. RoundUp also has isopropylamine to “neutralize” the mixture. The amounts of these “inerts” are unknown as they are “trade secrets.”

Glyphosate is a moderately toxic herbicide with “WARNING” on its label. The reported toxic effects of glyphosates vary widely. They are extreme skin and eye irritants, ranked third in California for reported pesticide-related illnesses. It prevents two enzymes in the body from processing toxicants. Studies I ran across link glyphosates with tumor formation in kidneys and adrenal cortexes of animals, testicular tumors, and thyroid cancer. Part of the problem may be that formaldehyde, a breakdown product of glyphosate, is a carcinogen, mutagen, and a reproductive toxicant. After all, it’s the lifeblood of the undertake biz. In other animal studies it was found to cause diarrhea, salivary gland lesions and reduced sperm counts, as well as excessive cell division in the urinary bladder.

RoundUp can drift as far as 130 feet from where it’s sprayed. It can take up to eight months to break down in the soil, and reaches both surface water and ground water. It may also be an air pollutant. Formaldehyde, its breakdown product, is listed as a toxic air contaminant, by the State Department of Pesticide Regulation. RoundUp is highly toxic to aquatic life, especially juvenile fish.

After a 1996 New York lawsuit, Monsanto can no longer advertise RoundUp for use “where pets and kids play.” Their laboratories are documented to have falsified data for toxicology tests of glyphosates on two occasions. RoundUp represents half of Monsanto’s gross earnings. And, as AVA readers should already know, Monsanto has developed genetically engineered “RoundUp Ready” crops which are resistant to heavy applications of the chemical. 

A number of wineries in Anderson Valley use RoundUp:

• Kendall-Jackson (Edmeades and Fish Rock Road) used 112 quarts on 78 acres.

• Husch Vineyards applied 40 quarts on 45 acres of grapes and 36 quarts on 14 acres of orchards.

• Navarro Vineyards applied 65 quarts on 63.5 acres.

• Phil Wasson applied 40 quarts on 33 acres.

• Turula applied 54.5 quarts on 128 acres.

• Corby applied 30 quarts on 36 acres.

• Scharffenberger applied 18 quarts on 77 acres.

• Anderson Valley Viticultural Services (Steve Williams vineyard management firm) applied 14.75 quarts of RoundUp to 65 acres around the Valley. (Williams manages Blakeman, DuPratt, Yorkville Vineyards (30 acres, managed organically), William Weir Ranch, Vidmar, Romani, Pepperwood Springs, Williams. (Specific amounts and acreage on file.)

• Greenwood Ridge Winery applied 11 quarts on 16 acres.

• Nova Vineyards applied 4 quarts on 10 acres.

• Duckhorn applied 3 quarts on 2.5 acres.

• Wiley applied 3.5 pints on 16 acres.

• Handley Cellars applied 0.03 quarts on 29 acres.


“Censored ’97; Rachel’s Environmental and Health Weekly, 11/23/95, “Many Pesticides, Little Knowledge,” and “Chemicals and the Brain, Parts 1 and 2,” by Peter Montague; Earth Island Journal, Fall/96, “The Truth About Inerts,” by Charmaine Oakley; “Living Downstream, An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment,” by Sandra Steingraber.

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