California’s Strawberry Industry Is Hooked on Dangerous Pesticides
by Bernice Yeung, Kendall Taggart and Andrew Donohue, Center for Investigative Reporting
Paul Helliker had a job for Dow AgroSciences.
As director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, Helliker had allowed some growers to ignore the restrictions for a pesticide called 1,3-Dichloropropene, which the state believed caused cancer.
The loophole was supposed to be temporary. Helliker gave Dow, the company that manufactures 1,3-D, and growers two years to come up with a plan to follow his department’s rules or to create new ones.
It took Dow less than a year to hand in its proposal. The company’s plan didn’t close the loophole, however. It greatly expanded it.
Dow asked that the director allow growers across the state to use twice as much 1,3-D in a year as the rules permitted. And the company wanted it to happen quickly. Two Dow officials, Bryan Stuart and Bruce Houtman, closed their proposal by saying that “implementation will begin immediately upon receipt of approval” from Helliker.
Six days later, Helliker signed off on the heart of Dow’s plan.
With that simple memo in 2002, Helliker dismantled the strict oversight designed seven years earlier to protect Californians from cancer, opening the door to 12 years of nearly unfettered 1,3-D access as its use spread to populated areas near schools, homes and businesses.
The decision put people in more than 100 California communities at a higher risk of cancer, according to interviews with former state scientists and documents obtained by The Center for Investigative Reporting. The system of exemptions, which has continued under two subsequent directors, runs counter to the department’s stated mission to protect the well-being of California residents.
Joseph Frank, a retired state toxicologist whose team evaluated human exposure to 1,3-D, said people in those communities should demand answers.