Greg King: Why is Sun Valley spraying toxic chemicals on a new Arcata field?

Don’t be fooled by the expanse of pretty irises growing between Foster Avenue and Bay School Road in the Arcata Bottom. 

Earlier this year, Sun Valley Floral Farms sprayed that field with the carcinogen glyphosate (aka Roundup) without adequately informing neighbors, the three nearby schools, or anyone in the densely populated Greenview/Windsong neighborhood of Arcata, all of which were downwind of the spraying. 

In 2015 the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a “probable carcinogen.” Later the state of California added glyphosate to its list of chemicals that cause cancer. Since then Monsanto and its parent company Bayer, which produce glyphosate, have suffered several high-profile court losses to victims of glyphosate who contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers. By now managers of any company that uses glyphosate should well know that in doing so they risk giving workers and neighbors cancer.

The Arcata Bottom tract is new to Sun Valley’s floral production. It was formerly used to feed cattle, with no chemicals needed. Yet over summer Sun Valley was at it again, spraying the same field with yet another carcinogen: chlorothalonil. 

 In this case I watched it happen. My presence was coincidental, as spraying occurred with no public notice. On the afternoon of July 30 a Sun Valley operator sprayed chlorothalonil onto the company’s new field. It was chilling to watch the day’s predictable northwest breeze wafting the chemical across Bay School Road right into neighbors’ homes and yards, and presumably into Arcata. 

The next day a large troupe of agricultural workers tarried in this very field, presumably absorbing the toxic impacts of a long-lasting chemical like chlorothalonil. (I learned that the chemical was chlorothalonil by contacting the Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner’s office.)

The state and federal governments list chlorothalonil as a probable human carcinogen and reproductive toxin. Chlorothalonil can contaminate the air traveling beyond the field and has been found in residential neighborhoods in many areas where it is applied. It is a potential groundwater contaminant, is persistent in soils, and is acutely toxic to fish, crabs and frogs. 

In 2016 (the last year for which statistics are available) Sun Valley used 1,152 pounds of chlorothalonil in Humboldt County. Now that the company is cultivating a new field its use of chlorothalonil has undoubtedly risen.

 Also in 2016 Sun Valley applied 1,621 pounds of captan—a mutagen and carcinogen that can cause respiratory damage and is highly toxic to fish—and 171 pounds of thiophanate-methyl. Thiophanate-methyl is a possible human carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor. 

(The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences defines endocrine disruptors as “chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”) Other dangerous and toxic chemicals used by Sun Valley include diuron (birth defects, groundwater contamination, destruction of aquatic invertebrates) and the infamous 2,4-D (developmental and reproductive toxin, possible human carcinogen, potential groundwater contaminant).

It’s bad enough that Sun Valley uses these poisons for non-food crops that could easily be produced without them. It’s infuriating that the company would waltz onto a brand new field, formerly free of toxics, and blithely contaminate it as well. Sun Valley might blandly state that “we adhere and comply with state and federal laws” in applying the chemicals, but this may not even be true. 

The company has no legal right to contaminate the waters and wildlife of California, which are owned by the people, and Sun Valley certainly has no legal right to poison its workers and its neighbors. Without extensive and expensive monitoring there is no way to adequately ascertain the extent of such contamination. 

Companies like Sun Valley count on this difficult process, and deferent county and state officials, to protect their “right” to do whatever they want, no matter the human and environmental costs. 

 The County of Humboldt and the City of Arcata, and its residents, need to step up and object to Sun Valley’s contamination. There is no reason these irises cannot be grown organically, except that it might cost a penny or two more on the dollar. 

So instead, Sun Valley management, including company CEO and President Lane DeVries, has opted to impose these costs onto the lives of workers, neighbors, and the environment.

Greg King is executive director of the Siskiyou Land Conservancy.






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One Comment;

  1. Chad White said:

    One industry stands to profit by stirring up fear of glyphosate.
    The organic industry depends on spreading the fear based message to their religious converts. But ironically, even Monsanto benefits from the extra organic seed sales!! The demonization of glyphosate is a scam that hurts people and the planet.
    ”One activist scientist, Christopher Portier, squirreled his way onto an IARC Advisory Committee in 2014, which he then chaired and recommended an IARC study on glyphosate, and then served as the technical adviser to that IARC Working Group in 2015. This WG did what all IARC groups save one have done: conclude that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic. All of this with IARC trying to hide that Portier was acting on behalf of the Washington-based anti-industry NGO – the Environmental Defense Fund.
    That was all the NGOs and organic industry lobbyists needed to launch a campaign that could defy the scientific consensus (reconfirmed after by EFSA and the German BfR) that glyphosate was safe. But there was another actor in this story with even sharper teeth and deeper funds.
    Fast-forward to 2018-19 and we can see the slimier side of this story. American tort law firms, including the two firms who financed Chris Portier’s activities, are extracting billions of dollars from tens of thousands of lawsuits representing plaintiffs who allegedly contracted cancer from glyphosate (based solely on the evidence provided by IARC). ”Scientists”, funded by tort law firms, use IARC as a staging ground not only for a lucrative career as litigation consultants but also empowering them to go around the regulatory process and provide an alternative “legislation by lawsuit” approach.
    The narrative that uses the fear of this boogeyman ‘glyphosate’ to manipulate consumers is hurting environmental progress. Yes, Glyphosate has improved the sustainability of agriculture, and no it does not been demonstrated to cause cancer.
    The science denial surrounding glyphosate from the political left is something they are gonna need to get a grip on before anything can be done about the political right denying the scientific consensus on climate change. The same science institutions that have determined the safety of glyphosate and are being rejected, are the same science institutions Greta is telling yall to listen to.