Port district doesn't know which way the wind is blowing!

Residents of Barrio Logan and Coronado protest methyl bromide releases

Provided by Environmental Health Coalition
Environmental Health Coalition (EHC), Mercado Tenants Association, MAAC Project, Barrio Station and residents of Barrio Logan and Coronado are demanding that the Port District discontinue fumigation of imported fruit with the highly toxic pesticide methyl bromide. The demands were advocated in light of revelations that the majority of air monitoring to determine the level of methyl bromide in the community was worthless.
"Enough is enough," stated Maria Osorio, a resident of the Mercado Apartments. "The community has endured two years of uncontrolled fumigation which the Port District claimed was completely safe. Now we find out that they don't even know which way the wind was blowing."
Osorio was referring to an analysis issued by EHC which evaluated the monitoring data based on three months of fumigation emissions. The analysis reveals that: EHC reviewed wind direction and monitoring data for all fumigations which occurred during January through March of this year. Correct wind direction was obtained from Lindburgh Field for each of the sampling times and compared with the location recorded by the contractors conducting the monitoring. Of the 335 samples taken, 119 or 35 percent were taken more than two hours after the fumigant was released. Normal wind speeds in the area would move the majority of the methyl bromide through in less than that amount of time. Another 128 or 38 percent of the samples were taken in locations not downwind of the facility.
According to Joy Williams, EHC Community Assistance Director, "The purpose of the monitoring was to provide information to the community regarding the level of contaminants being released into the surrounding neighborhoods. We have found that the methodology utilized was so flawed that the information is essentially useless."
In addition to EHC's own analysis, the organization also hired an independent consultant to review the monitoring protocols. Flint Webb, P.E., of CFW Engineering found that the procedures utilized by the Port contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), are not adequate to verify that the emission levels do not exceed levels of concern in the community.

"Good neighbor"?

Residents of the two most impacted communities, Barrio Logan and Coronado, spoke out against the Port District's decision to continue operating the commodity fumigation facility despite their pledge to be a "good neighbor."
"Everyone in Barrio Logan received a brochure from the Port District claiming that they have 'a perfect safety record' and that 'no residents have been harmed by fumigations at the Tenth Avenue Cold Storage Facility.' We know that the Port has no way of knowing whether it is safe or not. Because no one knows what a safe level is, we don't want any level of methyl bromide in our community," stated Myrna Jorge, a resident of the Mercado Apartments who is six months pregnant.
"Until recently, Coronado residents were completely unaware that methyl bromide emissions were spreading to our community as well. The Port District has never sent any communication to us. EHC informed us about recent monitoring samples which showed levels at 450 parts per billion," said Stephanie Kaupp, a Coronado resident. Williams explained that this is one of the highest levels measured locally and indicates that the Coronado community has the same health concerns as their neighbors across the Bay. "This was an average fumigation during average weather conditions. What would happen during a large fumigation and unfavorable weather conditions that keep the methyl bromide in the community for a longer period?" Williams asked.
Rachel Ortiz, Executive Director of Barrio Station, one of the oldest and most well-respected youth organizations in the community, noted that the State Legislature is also very involved in determining the future use of methyl bromide in California. "We were very disappointed when California lawmakers decided to allow the use of methyl bromide for two more years despite evidence that it is a potent reproductive toxin. Our communities are working in solidarity with the farm workers to ensure that this chemical is discontinued. Now, the legislature is proposing to allow methyl bromide emitters to be unregulated by the Air Pollution Control agencies. This is completely unacceptable and we call on the Port District to vehemently oppose AB 2264 which would allow this deregulation. If they are truly committed to protecting the neighborhood and the environment, they can demonstrate it by joining the community in our opposition of this bill."
Paula Forbis, EHC Staff Attorney and Air Toxics Advocate, outlined the community's demands to the Port District, which were expressed in a letter. "The experimentation must stop. Until the recapture unit planned for the facility is operational and permitted or until another pollution control technology is developed, the Port District should cease importation of commodities requiring fumigation. We call on them to discontinue negotiations with the Chilean fruit industry that include the import of fruit that requires fumigation. In addition, the community again calls on the Port Commissioners to hold a public workshop where all of the critical issues can be discussed in an open forum. The Commissioners have rejected two previous requests from the community for a dialogue on these issues and this has heightened tensions."


Methyl bromide is a known reproductive toxin and ozone depletor. Because of its toxicity and the cargo terminal's proximity to a densely populated residential area, EHC and the San Diego Unified School District sued the Port District in 1993 and secured a settlement agreement requiring the installation of a methyl bromide recapture unit. This unit was due to be installed by December 1, 1994; however it was not and the Port conducted 20 uncontrolled fumigations during 1995. In the spirit of cooperation, however, residents did not protest the fumigations as District officials assured them that the recapture unit was being installed and would be fully functional for the 1996 season.
The unit has not functioned, however, during any part of the 1996 season and all fumigations sent emissions into the community. Despite continued protests from the community, the Port District has refused to terminate or modify its operations.

Methyl bromide health effects

Concerns about adverse health effects for their families seem to be very well grounded by scientific studies. While significant data gaps still exist, in every study that has been completed the results reveal serious health effects. For example, documents from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation reveal possible adverse effects in every area in which methyl bromide toxicity studies are complete: reproductive, teratogenicity, gene mutation, chromosome damage, DNA damage and neurotoxicity.
An important data gap, for which manufacturers of methyl bromide have not yet submitted satisfactory test results, is a study of chronic toxicity in dogs. This study could help address a key question about methyl bromide exposure: is it capable of causing neurotoxicity at low levels in situations involving repeated or long-term exposure? In light of the fact that the half-life of methyl bromide in blood is 12 days, the question of increased toxicity from repeated exposure is particularly pertinent for Bayside residents who are downwind of the facility. Utilizing the commonly used standard of 10 half-lives as the point at which a substance is considered "all gone," each dose of methyl bromide stays in the blood for 120 days. In other words, the levels of methyl bromide will accumulate in the bodies of exposed residents throughout the fruit season.
Another area of concern is the reproductive toxicity of methyl bromide. There is sufficient scientific evidence that it is a reproductive and developmental toxicant in a number of animal species. Methyl bromide causes birth defects in rabbits and causes reduced fertility and fetal birth weight in rats. To protect humans from the adverse effects of acute exposures (exposures lasting one day or less), DPR recommends that ambient air levels not exceed 210 parts per billion (ppb). The State Office of Health Hazard Assessment, calls for an additional order of magnitude of safety, as required by Prop. 65, and recommends an acute exposure level of only 21 ppb. This level is not very far from the levels experienced in the community (the highest 4 hour level measured this season was 74 ppb; averaged over 24 hours it is 12.3 ppb), and, as noted above, the uncertainties about the monitoring results make us hesitant to conclude that exposures could not reach this level, if they haven't already.
All concerns about adverse health effects are increased the longer the uncontrolled fumigations continue. The probabilities of worst case weather conditions, accidental releases, adverse effects due to repeated exposures, health effects due to the cumulative burden of air pollution, all increase as the facility continues to release methyl bromide into the community. It should be noted that, with methyl bromide as with virtually all substances whose toxicity has been re-evaluated, the more it is studied, the lower the acceptable exposure levels are. Community residents have the full weight of history on their side when they say that no one really knows what level is safe.


The prevention of importation of pests is critical to the safety of agriculture in California. Equally important are the concerns and health of local residents. Industry has protested that alternatives are unavailable or too costly. But none other than the Department of Defense has found otherwise. The Defense Logistics Agency of the U.S. DoD ships large amounts of fresh produce for troops and commissaries overseas. For years, DLA used methyl bromide to fumigate produce prior to shipment. When DLA personnel learned that methyl bromide would be banned in the United States, they began looking for alternatives.
The DoD found controlled atmospheres, a technique that controls temperature and atmosphere levels inside sealed shipping containers. All components of air are removed except nitrogen, which at heightened levels kills insects by asphyxiation. Controlled atmosphere technology is relatively inexpensive, highly effective, environmentally benign and even improves the quality of shipped produce. The method works extremely well for DLA and saved the agency $2.8 million in transportation costs in the first year of operation. Chilean researchers have also developed a wax coating for the tropical fruit cherimoya, that replaces methyl bromide treatments required for shipment to the United States. Why is the Port so resistent to both alternatives and residents' concerns? Contact EHC at 235-0281 to get involved.