Tag Archives: methyl bromide

Rough Cut: The Devil’s Family Tree & the House of Butterflies

Six years ago, in my first draft of Fruit of the Devil, I described my protagonist’s research into the multinational corporate persons who control global chemical-intensive agriculture. The passage is obviously too long to include in my novel, but a friend recently encouraged me to resurrect this buried limb of Fruit of the Devil, and to call it “The Devil’s Family Tree”.

The information seems important, even if it’s too much to stuff into a novel. So here, to the best of my research ability, is how I believe that methyl bromide, brilliantly marketed as an “essential” agricultural pesticide, is really a nothing but a toxic waste product of the petrochemical industry. How did they get us to buy that, and Eat it on our food?????? Methyl Bromide hasn’t gone away yet. And the strategies these corporations use to dupe the public are well-honed and still being used. I think we need to know how they’re playing us.

(This might be a good time to listen to Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain Gonna Fall.)

“The soil is, as a matter of fact, full of live organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life, not as a dead or inert mass.” Albert Howard, The Soil and Health, 1947


The Devil’s Family Tree: Who are the Multinational Corporate Persons that control our world?

Chapter 55. Monday, April 18, 1999. Passover Begins at Sundown.

Aurora sat propped up in her big bed, with several fat pillows stuffed behind her back. It was raining hard. It had been raining all weekend, without any breaks in the storm. Aurora leaned back against her pillows and enjoyed the sound of the rain on the roof. Suddenly, the sound shifted, like gravel falling from the sky. Hail!

Blue jumped off the bed and went to the glass door. As he watched the falling hail, the tip of his tail twitched. Aurora stood next to the large black cat, looking out. The hail subsided, turning into a pounding rain. The frozen beads on the ground and on the hot tub cover quickly melted. Aurora crawled back into bed,  snuggled the comforter up around her, pulled her knees up to her chest and settled back against her pillows to resume her research.

Like following a thread through a labyrinth, she read over the material again. It was complicated. Bit-by-bit, the muddied waters were beginning to clear. She was beginning to understand who, hidden in the tangled web of interlocking corporate directorates, was responsible for methyl bromides’ persistence as an agricultural pesticide, in blatant disregard of all the legislation requiring its phase-out. She was starting to see how the system was being manipulated, and who was pulling the strings.

Who Are the Bromide Barons? Just three corporations account for most of the world’s methyl bromide production. The Great Lakes Chemical Corporation and Albemarle in the US, and a Tel Aviv-based subsidiary called the Dead Sea Bromine Group control over seventy-five percent of global production of the pesticide. Their affiliated corporations in France and Japan, together with North Sea Bromine, Alumina Belgique, and Dubai Potash are responsible for the remaining production. The global bromine industry is an oligopoly, Aurora read, controlled by Albemal and the Dead Sea Bromine Group.

Another downpour of hail battered the roof like machine gun fire Through the glass door Aurora watched frozen white beads beat up the ragged daffodils. The hail turned into sheeting rain again, and she went back to her reading.

These three companies are joined by Trical Corporation in California, which, together with its affiliated companies, dominates methyl bromide fumigation in the United States. A number of large agribusiness corporations, such as Sun Diamond Growers Cooperative, as well as the large California strawberry shipper-cooler conglomerates also play a central role in the political-economic battle over methyl bromide.

These key players have worked together on local, national and global initiatives, including propaganda, intimidation, and outright buy-outs of politicians, to fight the phase-out of this acutely toxic, ozone-depleting chemical. The Barons of Bromide strive to perpetuate methyl bromide use through industry associations, such as the Methyl Bromide Working Group, the Methyl Bromide Global Coalition, the Crop Protection Coalition, and the Agricultural Workers Committee.

Aurora had been over this material before, but she still felt like she was missing something. She sensed there was something more, something bigger driving all of this. Albemarle and affiliates controlled most of the world’s methyl bromide production. But who, she wondered, was the wizard in the closet behind Albemarle?

She climbed out of bed, wrapped herself in a warm fleece bathrobe decorated with polar bears and penguins, snuggled her feet into fleece slippers, and headed for the kitchen. Blue padded next to her, apparently hoping that, if he stayed tight on her heels, she would remember to feed him. She looked down at the fat cat and laughed.

“OK. Breakfast time. Here you go.” The sound of the cat kibble pouring into the bowl made a counterpoint to the rain on the roof, now a gentle, steady patter.

Aurora topped off her mug with hot Earl Grey tea, toasted an English muffin, spread with butter and olallieberry jam, sat down at her kitchen desk and turned on the computer. She  typed in “Albemarle”, and clicked on “Search”.

Albemal began in 1887 as a US paper manufacturing company. Paper manufacturing, Aurora knew, was a dirty, highly polluting industry. She and her students had recently read a book by Lynne Cherry, A River Ran Wild, telling the story of a paper mill’s destruction of the Nashua River in Massachusetts. How it had come to light that the river was so polluted it was spontaneously catching on fire, and this had led, after a protracted struggle by the public, to the passage of the US Clean Water Act in 1965. Growing public awareness and concerns about the environment had ultimately led to the formation of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.

“In 1921, a team of chemists performing research for General Motors discovered tetraethyllead (TEL) had antiknock properties as a gasoline additive. As a result, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation in Richmond, Virginia began production of tetraethyllead in 1937. TEL remained the primary product of the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation through the next four decades. When the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation expanded its product line (particularly to include MMT), its name was changed to the Ethyl Corporation. The Albemarle Paper Manufacturing Company borrowed $200 million in 1962 and purchased Ethyl Corporation, a company more than thirteen times its size.”

So Albemal, a little Arkansas paper company, merged with the Ethyl Corporation in 1962. Ethyl? Gasoline? Paper and petrochemicals? Aurora read on. In ’68, the Ethyl/Albemal company acquired a bromide chemical plant in Arkansas from Dow Chemical. Dow Chem, the ozone eating chlorofluorocarbon manufacturer?

Albemarle continued to expand and diversify into chemicals, plastics, aluminum and energy, netting millions in profit. In the ‘90’s the company sharpened its focus on its core chemical businesses, forming an alliance with a Japanese chemical company, Dead Sea Bromine, and Dubai Potash. It also acquired an oil fields chemicals plant, giving Albemarle access to customers in the North Sea. Oil fields chemicals? In 1997, Albemarle restructured into two business units: Polymer Chemicals and Fine Chemicals.

So Albemarle Paper merged with Ethyl Gasoline? Aurora remembered hearing something about Ethyl gasoline when she was a child. She Goggled “Ethyl”, and read:

“In 1920, the DuPont family consolidated its grip over General Motors. During this period, a team of scientists perfected an anti-knock gasoline additive that boosted octane content. After first marketing the “no knock” tetraethyl lead (TEL) in 1922, GM- DuPont formed a 50-50 joint venture with one of the most powerful petroleum corporations on the planet – Standard Oil – and its New Jersey subsidiary, which later became known as Exxon, to produce and market the chemical. The new company was called the Ethyl Corporation.”

So, Albemarle Paper Company became the world’s largest producer of methyl bromide, after a merger with Ethyl no knock gasoline, which was created by General Motors, DuPont, and Standard Oil. Bells and whistles started going off. Standard Oil!? Oh, my God. One of the most powerful petroleum corporations on the planet was somehow behind methyl bromide. The wizard, the puppeteer pulling the strings of the TriCal King of Poisoners, was now standing just behind the curtain, and his face was covered in oil.

Aurora kept reading.

“Almost immediately, Ethyl ran into trouble. Scientists raised concerns that automobiles running on leaded gasoline were ‘a serious menace to the public health.’ In 1924, the story broke that 80% of the workers who produced tetraethyl lead had either been killed or were suffering acute poisoning. Employees suffered such severe nerve damage and extensive hallucinations at one refinery that it was dubbed ‘the House of Butterflies.’ Ethyl, supported by its owners – DuPont, General Motors, and Exxon/Standard Oil – fought back against concerns of scientists and the public.”

Corporate publicists contradicted a growing body of scientific evidence with a bold public relations and lobbying campaign, hiring a journalism professor from Columbia University to place favorable articles in newspapers, and run full page ads touting the product in Life Magazine and other popular journals. General Motors’ director of research told the American Medical Association that, ‘there is absolutely no danger of acquiring lead poisoning, even through prolonged exposure to exhaust gases of cars using Ethyl gas.’ ”

“There’s absolutely no danger… Our product is perfectly safe. Don’t worry about a thing. We’re the experts. Trust us. We’ll keep you safe.” Where had she heard that before? “Noooooo problem. Don’t worry your little head about the pesticides. We’ll take care of you.”

Aurora addressed Blue, who was meticulously cleaning his paws and whiskers. “Can you believe this, Blue? Way back in 1924, Standard and Ethyl Big Oil were already colluding with General Motors and DuPont Chemical, creator, along with Dow, of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, to spin junk science and propaganda. Way back then, they were already successfully manipulating the public into believing that their poisonous concoctions were safe. They’ve had decades to perfect their propaganda. No wonder they’ve been able to trick the public into believing that growing food with poisons is good for us.” Blue blinked his big yellow eyes, said Meow, then sauntered off to the window seat to watch the rain. Aurora turned back to the computer screen.

“The campaign to promote Ethyl and protect its market share was highly successful. A Surgeon General’s panel of scientists called for further study, but the required studies were never conducted. General Motors produced high-compression engines that ran only on leaded gasoline, further assuring Ethyl’s successful capture of the market share. By 1940, 70% of all US gasoline contained deadly Ethyl. Competitor’s products were driven out of the market – the same fate that befell the refrigerants that were rivals of GM-DuPont’s chlorinated fluorocarbon ‘Freon’. ”

“Hum,” thought Aurora. “Required studies were never conducted. Well, that’s familiar. Just like the way they’ve never bothered to complete the tests on methyl bromide that were required by the California Birth Defects Prevention Act. How do they get away with that?”

The rain got louder. Aurora  stretched, and gazed through the sliding glass door. Rain was coming down in solid sheets, blowing nearly sideways. The patio and the garden paths were flooding. All the trees were blowing wildly. She shuffled into her living room and watched through the bay window.  The water had risen almost to curb level. Something orange bobbed on the water flooding toward the storm drain.

Continuing her house inspection, she opened the door from the laundry room off the kitchen into her garage, which she used as an art studio. The floor was still dry. She checked the whole house, looking for signs of moisture on the ceilings, and along seals around doors and windows. Everything looked dry and snug. She turned on the gas wall heater that warmed her cottage. The gas ignited and the heater made a comforting purring sound. Aurora suppressed her misgivings about the environmental impact of heating her house with gas and sat back down at the computer. She continued reading, wondering how long she had before the power went out.

So Ethyl, Albemale, and methyl bromide. Ethyl/Albemarle’s involvement in the methyl bromide business had its roots in Ethyl’s leaded gasoline business. When tetraethyl lead was invented back in the 1920’s, it turned out that the product left a corrosive byproduct in the engine. The solution that Ethyl’s scientists found was to add a chemical called ethylene dibromide (EDB) to the mix. Ethyl first produced “no knock” EDB in 1934 by extracting bromine from sea water in a joint venture with Dow Chemical. This process was replaced in 1969 by a joint venture between Ethyl and an Albemarle subsidiary located near an Arkansas salt marsh. The new process used concentrated brine drilled from deep beneath the salt marsh to make bromine.

In 1972, the same year it banned DDT, the US government finally ordered the phase out of leaded gasoline in the US. Since the House of Butterflies story had first been suppressed, it had been a run of almost fifty years that deadly ethyl gasoline was successfully marketed in almost every tank.

Ethyl/Albemarle quickly responded to the government-mandated phase out of Ethyl with a three track strategy. First, they continued to aggressively claim that leaded gasoline emissions posed absolutely no human health hazards. Although studies found that, after elimination of TEL leaded gasoline, the level of lead in American’s blood fell as much as 75%, Ethyl/Albemarle continued to dismiss all evidence of the hazards of tetraethyl lead.

Second, they globalized production and distribution, developing international markets for leaded “anti-knock” gasoline. To compensate for the decline in the domestic consumption of tetraethyl lead, Ethyl globalized leaded gasoline. Consequently, TEL is responsible for nearly 90% of airborne lead pollution in Third World cities today.

Finally, Ethyl/Albemarle diversified their US production. Faced with a steadily diminishing market for leaded gasoline, they sought to find other uses for the vast salt brine reserves they had been using to produce the ethylene dibromide (EDB) additive to TEL. They marketed EDB as an agricultural chemical, encouraging its use in grain storage silos and as a pesticide applied directly to crops. In 1983, the US Environmental Protection Agency banned EDB as a pesticide, finding that it posed an unacceptable cancer risk. Cakes, breads and cereals containing EDB were recalled from supermarket shelves.

Despite the setback, Ethyl/Albemal rapidly expanded their bromine production, ultimately cornering all of the US bromide production and one-third of the bromide production world-wide. They developed a bromide product line that included flame retardants, drilling fluids, water treatment chemicals, cleaning solvents, glass making, detergents, pesticides, photographic chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

To the rhythm of the falling rain, Aurora heard inside her head that song from the Dr. Seuss movie, The Lorax, that she showed to her students every year. The song about all of the many, many uses that could be made out of Thneeds, those things that the Onceler made out of chopped down trees. …drilling fluids, water treatment chemicals, cleaning solvents, glass making, detergents, pesticides, photographic chemicals, pharmaceuticals And thneeds are what everyone, everyone needs!” The Lorax

She went over the material again in her mind, wondering why she’d never heard this story before. Everyone should know about this, she thought. People should know how our lives and our world are being manipulated. So, it took from 1924 to 1972 for the government to finally ban leaded gasoline, even though the science proving that leaded gas was a deadly toxin had been available from the beginning. And, once it was finally banned in the US, the companies just sold it overseas, plus they remixed the same chemicals and re-marketed them under a different name for different uses, including as agricultural pesticides. The people that do these things must be so cynical, thought Aurora.

A bolt of lightening lit the sky, followed by a satisfying crack of thunder. Thunderstorms were fairly rare on the Central California coast. Aurora hurried to the window to watch for another lightening flash. Another bolt forked across the dark sky. Aurora counted the seconds. … one thousand five. Caboom! went the thunder, followed by a downpour. Aurora returned to the computer.

One of their products, a highly profitable brominated fire retardant called tetrabromobisophenol-A (TBBA), they sold to the electronics industry for use in the manufacture of fire-resistant epoxy circuit boards and personal computer housing. A by-product of TBBA is methyl bromide.

OK, thought Aurora. So, here comes the methyl bromide.

In a brilliant marketing move, Ethyl/Albemarle promoted methyl bromide, the toxic waste from the manufacture of TBBA, as a substitute for the carcinogenic pesticide EDB, which the government had mandated to be phased out. Methyl bromide quickly became a strategic product for Ethyl/Albemarle.

“Oh, perfect. So, methyl bromide is toxic waste that they figured out how to sell us as a substitute for a banned carcinogenic pesticide. Cute. These people are clever as hell, Blue.” The cat was still watching the rain. He didn’t bother to turn around and look at her, but simply flicked the tip of his tail in response.

Albemarle produced methyl bromide under a licensing agreement with Dow Chemical. Monsanto, the giant corporate arm that controls a large share of the powerful berry cooler-shipper business, assured the ongoing demand for methyl bromide in the California berry industry, which accounts for 80% of all US strawberry production.

“Monsanto? The entire Devil’s Family is in the room now. Of course. You could have guessed that, right, Blue? ” Blue flicked his tail and batted at Aurora’s hand, then left the room. Aurora squinted at the computer screen.

Today, with the rapid growth of the computer industry, demand for TBBA is increasing world-wide. In response, Albemarle is increasing its TBBA production, and with it, the amount of methyl bromide byproduct generated. If ever the International Montreal Protocol’s ban on methyl bromide is actually enforced in the US, methyl bromide will cease to be a highly profitable pesticide, and instead will become, for the Ethyl/Standard Oil/General Motors/DuPont/Exxon/Dow/Monsanto/Albemarle cartel a toxic waste disposal liability.

Holy shit., Batman. Monsanto, General Motors, Dow Chemical and Standard Oil. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Aurora stood before the screen as the curtain lifted. She could finally see who was pushing the buttons, pulling the levers and dancing the puppets on the strings. The wizard had a face. But not a human face. It was the face of one of the oldest and most powerful petrochemical corporations on the planet. Standard Oil, with the tentacles of an ancient and evil octopus.

Lightening and thunder cracked the sky. The surge protector clicked off. The computer monitor flickered, and went black. Aurora tried a light switch. The electricity was down. She groped her way into her garage and flipped the switches on the circuit breaker. No power. But the gas heater continued to purr. Aurora unrolled her yoga mat. She kicked off her slippers, pulled off her robe and nightgown, tossing them on the nearest chair, and began a naked sun salutation. She spent an hour practicing yoga, as the thunder and lightening continued. Then she took a hot shower, grateful for her gas water heater, but thinking she should look into solar water heating. Somehow, she had to get off her fossil fuel gas and oil dependency.

Dressing in comfortable sweats, she sat cross-legged on floor pillows and meditated in the gloamy light, focusing on her breathing while she chanted her Mata Amritanandamayi mantra. By the time she finished meditating, the squall had passed. She checked the lights. On. She felt grateful to whomever the heroes were who were out there in the deluge doing the difficult and dangerous work of restoring electricity to neighborhoods with downed power lines. What a wonderful thing, electricity. Living in the age of fossil fuel. An age ushered in, to a large extent, by the big oil companies…

There were so many contradictions to come to terms with, living in these times. Where did her electricity come from? Every year, she asked her students that, and together, they discovered the answer for their locality. Moss Landing. The Moss Landing Power Plant, across the highway from the Moss Landing Harbor. It had generated electricity for Pacific Gas and Electric customers by burning oil up until the 1970’s, and then had converted to natural gas.

Thank God there were no longer dirty oil tankers coming into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to refuel the power plant, with their ever-looming threat of oil spills. But still, gas was a fossil fuel, too. A non-renewable resource. It was becoming more and more clear, Aurora thought, that any process involving the extraction of materials from the earth – coal, oil, gas, blood diamonds  . . .  all of it, when you scratched the surface, turned out to be dirty, destructive, and toxic, and controlled by people willing to do anything – lie, steal, cheat, destabilize countries, ruin watersheds, and even knowingly let people die – just so they could make their obscenely huge profits. Why? Was it the amassing of more and more wealth that these people were addicted to? Or was there something else driving the insatiable desire of these hungry ghosts? Power, lust?

Standard Oil and methyl bromide. Well, that was certainly interesting. So, the petrochemical industry, the oil companies, actually owned the pesticide industry. The Methyl Bromide Barons essentially worked for the Frankenstein ghost of Standard Oil. Maybe the CEO’s of all the corporations were one and the same people. Interlocking corporate boards of directors.

It was time to figure out another way. To get free of pesticides, and clear of as many petrochemicals as possible. Although they seemed to be everywhere, in everything she touched, from food, to clothing, furniture, plastics, and gasoline. Aurora resolved once and for all that she was going to find out how to at least get her energy – her light, heat, transportation – through sustainable, renewable means, as much as she could. For starters, she was going to look into putting solar hot water and electricity on her house, as soon as possible. Eventually, maybe should could get an all electric car to plug into her home solar system. She didn’t want to be a participant or an enabler of this country’s fossil fuel addiction any longer.

The phone rang.

Aurora didn’t pick it up. She let the machine take it and listened to the auto dialer’s message. The fire department was letting everyone know that, due to the unusual El Niño conditions, severe storms were expected to continue for the next three days. Flooding was expected in most areas. Residents who needed sandbags could pick them up at the nearest fire station. And there were flood evacuation centers at the following locations…..

Aurora made herself a tuna sandwich. Blue circled her ankles like a shark. Taking her sandwich plate to her desk, she googled Standard Oil.

The first hit was a link to an article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Dismantling of the Standard Oil Trust”.

Aurora clicked on the link, and read: “The saga of Standard Oil ranks as one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the U.S. economy. It occurred at a time when the country was undergoing its rapid transformation from a mainly agricultural society to the greatest industrial powerhouse the world has ever known. The effects of Standard Oil on the U.S., as well as on much of the rest of the world, were immense, and the lessons that can be learned from this amazing story are possibly as relevant today as they were a century ago.

Standard Oil Company was founded by John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland, Ohio in 1870. In just a little over a decade, through a variety of cutthroat and often violent strategies, it had attained control of nearly all the oil refineries in the U.S.

During this period, a brilliant inventor, Rudolf Diesel, was promoting his diesel engine, which ran on clean peanut oil. Diesel was mysteriously murdered, and his plant seized and burned. Immediately after Diesel’s murder, Standard Oil rolled out a petroleum distillate called diesel gasoline to take the place of clean bio-diesel. The mysterious death of Rudolf Diesel cleared away one of Standard Oil’s most serious competitors.

(Josh Tickell gives an excellent portrayal of Diesel’s mysterious death in his film FUEL.)

By 1878 Rockefeller had attained control of nearly 90 percent of the oil refined in the U.S., and shortly thereafter he had gained control of most of the oil marketing facilities in the U.S.

Standard Oil initially focused on horizontal integration (i.e., at the same stage of production) by gaining control of other oil refineries. But gradually the integration also became vertical (i.e., extended to other stages of production and distribution), mainly by acquiring pipelines, railroad tank cars, terminal facilities and barrel manufacturing factories. It was the first of the great corporate trusts.

A trust was an arrangement whereby the stockholders in a group of companies transferred their shares to a single set of trustees who controlled all of the companies. In exchange, the stockholders received certificates entitling them to a specified share of the consolidated earnings of the jointly managed companies. The trustees elected the directors and officers of each of the component companies, and all of the profits of those companies were sent to the trustees, who decided the dividends. This arrangement allowed all of the companies to function in unison as a highly disciplined monopoly. The unified organization of the trust finally made the disciplined regulation of production levels possible, thereby giving its owners complete control over prices. Massive and unprecedented profits of Standard Oil were made possible by this control over prices, the huge economies of scale attained from the control of almost all oil refined in the U.S. and the ability to pressure railroads and other suppliers of goods and services into giving them bargain rates.

Rockefeller became the first billionaire in the U.S. However, even this unprecedented wealth and power was not enough. Rockefeller and Standard Oil needed ever more. The company thus expanded into the overseas markets, particularly Western Europe and Asia, and after a while it was selling even more oil abroad than in the U.S. Moreover, Rockefeller, in addition to his role as the head of Standard Oil, also invested in numerous companies in manufacturing, transportation and other industries and owned major iron mines and extensive tracts of timberland.

The astonishing success of Standard Oil encouraged others to follow the Rockefeller business model, particularly in the booming final decades of the 19th century. Trusts were established in close to 200 industries, although most never came close to Standard Oil in size or profitability. Among the largest were railroads, coal, steel, sugar, tobacco and meatpacking.

This dominance of oil, together with its tentacles entwined deep into the railroads, other industries, influential private foundations, and even various levels of government, persisted and intensified, despite a growing public outcry and repeated attempts to break it up. There was widespread disgust and revulsion, not only among the many people who had their businesses or jobs wiped out by the ruthless predatory tactics of the trusts, but also by countless others who were affected by the increased costs and reduced levels of service that often resulted from the elimination of competition.

The monopolization of the economy became a major topic for the independent print media, which helped to create a widespread awareness not only of the effects of this consolidation but also of the techniques that were being used to attain it, including the extensive use of fraud, political corruption and physical violence.

The media attack on monopolies and corruption reached a peak from 1902 to 1912, which is often referred to as the muckraking decade. The muckrakers helped bring about an unprecedented era of reform. The U.S. Supreme Court was finally able to act decisively in 1911. Pioneering legislation was passed, aimed at restoring free competition to the economy and at protecting the food supply along with other measures designed to stop the excesses and abuses of corporate greed.

1911 was also a pivotal year for the petroleum industry in another respect. It was the year in which the U.S. market for kerosene (until then the main product from oil refining) was surpassed by that for a formerly discarded byproduct of the refining process — gasoline.

Wind rattled the windows. Rain hammered on the roof. Another squall was hitting the coast. Aurora got up and put her sandwich plate in the sink. She clicked on the gas under the teakettle. While she waited for the water to boil, she watched the storm through the window. A large branch broke off a cedar tree across the street and fell onto the neighbor’s yard, barely missing the car in their driveway. A tall palm tree down the block was bending sideways. Huge palm fronds flew through the air. Rain lashed against the front of Aurora’s house, blowing off the bay at nearly gale force. The street was a muddy, turbulent river. Water was rising up over the sidewalk. This has to be a hundred year storm, Aurora thought. She couldn’t remember anything like it.

The Muckrakers. Aurora remembered having learned about muckrakers when she was in high school. The conditions today seemed so similar to back then. Globalization of the economy was leading to monopolization and control by big corporations, job loss, exploitation of workers, fraud, political corruption, predatory lending all over the world. Just like Standard Oil took over the U.S. economy a hundred years ago, the World Trade Organization was becoming even more powerful than sovereign nations today, in its control of the global economy. And the US Supreme Court had given corporations the legal status and constitutional rights of “personhood”. Where was the independent media? Where were the muckrakers? Why wasn’t the public being made aware of what was happening?

The teakettle whistled. Aurora made herself a cup of instant Miso soup with seaweed and shitake mushrooms. Stirring the savory soup, she took her cup back to the desk, woke up the computer, and continued reading.

In spite of the outraged public sentiment awakened by the muckrakers, it took the government a long time to take effective measures to deal with the abusive tactics by Standard Oil and other monopolies. The strong desire on the part of the monopolies for preventing government intervention undoubtedly played a major role in this delay.

But the vehement public opposition to the trusts, especially among farmers who protested the high charges for transporting their products to the cities by railroad, finally resulted in the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890. This was the first measure enacted by the U.S. Congress to prohibit trusts. The Sherman Antitrust Act, based on the constitutional power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, authorized the Federal Government to dissolve the trusts. It was passed by an overwhelming vote of 51-1 in the Senate and a unanimous vote of 242-0 in the House, and it was signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison.

Roosevelt, who became president in 1901, preferred regulation to dismantling. He attempted to steer a middle course between the socialism favored by some reformers and the laissez faire approach advocated by the Republicans. His hand was strengthened by an increasingly outraged public, which, although leery of government intervention in the past, had become far more supportive of it because of the seemingly endless growth in the numbers and power of the monopolies.

Several steps were taken by Roosevelt during his first term that proved highly successful despite intensive efforts by big business to block them. They included: (1) Convincing Congress to establish a Department of Commerce and Labor, the first new executive department since the Civil War, in order to increase the federal government’s oversight of the interstate actions of big business and to monitor labor relations. (2) Setting up the Bureau of Corporations in the new department in order to find violations of existing antitrust legislation. The Bureau soon began investigations into the oil, steel, meatpacking and other industries. (3) Instructing his attorney general to launch a total of 44 lawsuits against what were determined to be harmful business combinations, among which was the Standard Oil Trust.

The Court ordered the Standard Oil Trust to dismantle 33 of its most important affiliates and to distribute the stock to its own shareholders and not to a new trust. The result was the creation of a number of completely independent (although eight of them retained the phrase Standard Oil in their names) and vertically integrated oil companies, each of which ranked among the most powerful in the world. This decision also paved the way for new entrants into the industry, such as Gulf and Texaco, which discovered and exploited vast new petroleum deposits in Texas. The consequent vigorous competition gave a big impetus to innovation and expansion of the oil industry as a whole.

Historians of the future will likely continue to view the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust as an important milestone in the unending struggle to restore and preserve free competition in the U.S. economy. Yet, they will no doubt note developments in the second half of the 20th Century turning the tide again in favor of transnational corporate control of the U.S. and global economy and a new era of monopoly creation on a global scale. And they might also be far more concerned than their predecessors about the failure of the market mechanism, and of society as a whole, to address an issue of at least equally great importance: namely, the inexorable rush to consume and deplete what increasingly appears to be the very finite resources of planet earth, virtually regardless of the consequences.” 

The Dismantling of the Standard Oil Trust Created May 21, 2004. Updated October 12, 2006. Copyright © 2004 – 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights Reserved.

Aurora’s eyes grew heavy. She shut off the computer, moved the sleeping cat over and flopped down on the couch, pulling a blanket over herself and Blue. She picked up her new book from the coffee table, opened it, and began reading. The Heat is On: the Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription by Ross Gelbspan. The rain fell softly. In a few minutes, Aurora was asleep.

She was underwater, wrestling a giant octopus. It sprayed black, oily, toxic ink into the water. Through the shadowy muck she could make out many other writhing figures – humans, penguins, polar bears, enormous salmon with human faces, strangling and struggling in the tentacles of the monster. She was drowning.

The Barons of Bromine Corp Watch  – This information is referenced and quoted with permission from The Bromide Barons by Joshua Karliner, Alba Morales, and Dara O’Rourke, of Corporate Watch, San Francisco, 1997.
Shaping the Industrial Century: The Remarkable Story of the Evolution of the Evolution of the Modern Chemical and Pharmaceutical Industries by Alfred Dupont Chandler
The Dismantling of the Standard Oil Trust Created May 21, 2004. Updated October 12, 2006. Copyright © 2004 – 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights Reserved.

“Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? And where have you been my darling young one? I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’, I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world. And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall.” Bob Dylan

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Californians for Pesticide Reform: Twenty Year Anniversary Rally and Day of Action in the State Capitol

Please Listen to Tish Hinojosa’s song, “Something in the Rain”

Today, a new generation of teachers has awakened to the pesticide issue, and the embers of Farm without Harm have caught fire again. The new group, which meets once a month in Salinas and once a month in Watsonville, has named itself Safe Ag Safe Schools – SASS. And this growing group does have plenty of Sass, energy, and intelligence to move our cause forward.

A bit of history: In 1988 when I started teaching at Amesti Elementary in the Pajaro River Valley of South Santa Cruz County, California, my colleagues and I were only vaguely aware of the fact that pesticides were being used on the vast agricultural lands of the valley. The beauty of the valley and the excitement of having a good teaching job made it easy for me to repress my uneasiness about pesticides exposure.

IMG_6072But by the mid nineties, I could no longer hide from myself the fact that something was wrong at my school. Cancer, asthma, rashes, dizziness, miscarriages . . . I came to understand that two highly volatile toxic gases – methyl bromide and chloropicrin – were being injected into the soil of the strawberry fields just on the other side of the chain link fence from our school.

With growing concern, I participated in a forum on environmental health at the Louden Nelson Community Center in Santa Cruz where I met Gary Karnes, a pesticide activist from Monterey. Soon, I was attending meetings at the UFW offices in Watsonville with a group of teachers, parents, scientists, and concerned citizens. We formed a group, which  we named “Farm without Harm”,  to educate about pesticides and advocate for reform. Someone in the group reached out to Pesticide Action Network, an international organization based in San Francisco. PAN sent a full-time activist to the Monterey Bay to work with us.  It was around this time that Californians for Pesticide Reform was also created.

By 2000, the struggle over pesticide use near the schools had become so fierce and vicious that I, and many of the other teachers who were engaged in the struggle, left our jobs in the school district. In retrospect, I realize that our early work did help kick the door open for acceptance of organic agriculture in the Pajaro Valley. Today, the most successful organic vegetable grower in the valley is the uncle of one of my former third grade students from that era. Dick Peixoto of Lakeside Farms has personally acknowledged to me that it was we teachers who first got him thinking about going organic.

IMG_8735In 2010, under pressure to comply with the Montreal Protocol’s mandated phase-out of methyl bromide, the pesticide industry tried to roll out a chemical substitute that was even worse than the banned ozone-depleting chemical methyl bromide: methyl iodide.  Activists from the “early days” came out of the woodwork and helped to soundly quash the roll-out of the carcinogenic methyl iodide .

Farm without Harm no longer exists, but over the years since the founding of Farm without Harm, coalition building has been quietly moving forward. The Californians for Pesticide Reform is now a statewide coalition of more than 185 organizations.

Founded in 1996 to fundamentally shift the way pesticides are used in California, CPR’s mission is to protect public health, improve environmental quality and expand a sustainable and just agriculture system by building a diverse movement across California to change statewide and local pesticide policies and practices. CPR has built a diverse, multi-interest coalition to challenge the powerful political and economic forces opposing change. Member organizations include public health, children’s health, educational and environmental advocates, clean air and water organizations, health practitioners, environmental justice groups, labor, organizations, farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates. Members are actively engaged through a unifying four point platform: 1) eliminate use of the most dangerous pesticides 2) reduce use of and reliance on all pesticides 3) support safer, ecologically sound and more socially just forms of pest management 4) expand and protect the public’s right to know about pesticide use, exposure, and impacts.

The coalition is governed by a Steering Committee, currently comprised of:
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
Center for Environmental Health
Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
El Quinto Sol de America

Monterey Bay Central Labor Council
Pesticide Action Network
Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles

Going forward in 2016, I’m proud to be affiliated with our new SASS-y generation of Pajaro Valley teachers, many of whom participated in a rally this summer in our state capitol. You can find out more about SASS on their Facebook page < https://www.facebook.com/safeagsafeschools/  >and website < http://dev-safe-ag.pantheonsite.io/ >, designed by students at California State University Monterey Bay.


On July 12, 2016, the Californians for Pesticide Reform 20th Anniversary  “Day of Action” Rally for pesticide reform took place in Sacramento. Farmworkers, teachers, citizens, doctors, legislators, scientists, seniors, and children made their way to the California  Environmental Protection Agency building in the state capitol, with boxes to present to the Department of Pesticide Regulation full of thousands of signatures on petitions and letters signed by over 200 organizations. Many people got up at 3 am and traveled hours on buses to attend the rally.

During the rally, I had the opportunity to make some meaningful and hopefully lasting connections with some very inspiring people, including a young doctor, and a group of amazing young women and future leaders who will start college in the fall.IMG_8664

The goal of the rally was to demand that the people who work for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation do the job they are paid for: to protect the people, and our children, from harmful pesticide exposure. We want the DPR to draft new regulations requiring a one mile pesticide-free buffer zone around all ag fields that are near schools. Please send them your comments!

Following are some scenes and video clips from the rally and the  luncheon at St. John Lutheran Church.IMG_8646






Video: Rally in Sacramento, CA – Californians for Pesticide Reform July 12, 1916 Introductory remarks by Dr. Ann Lopez

Video: State Assemblyman Dean Florez speaks of dedication, leadership, and “ganas” during luncheon award ceremony at St. John’s Lutheran Church

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Is Your Child Being Exposed to Dangerous Pesticides?


U.S. EPA Chief Pruitt just gave the okay to Chlorpyrifos, a brain harming pesticide the agency knows to be extremely dangerous to children. Want to know what else is your child is being exposed to? HERE’S HOW TO Become a CITIZEN RESEARCHER.

“Kids today are sicker than they were a generation ago, and a growing body of scientific evidence points to pesticides as a reason why. From childhood cancers to learning disabilities and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise.”
A Generation in Jeopardy,
How pesticides are undermining our children’s health & intelligence[1]

What’s the Problem?

I’ve been a teacher in agricultural communities in Central California for over twenty-five years. I’ve seen first-hand the abnormally high incidence of child cancers, and the rising rate of autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, respiratory and autoimmune diseases.

In October, 2015, two schools in the Pajaro Valley School District were exposed to pesticide drift when a pesticide application was made to strawberry fields during school hours. In an exchange between the teachers and the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, we learned that the carcinogens telone (1,3-dichloropropene) and chloropicrin – both banned in the European Union – were applied within one mile of the school while classes were in session.

Teachers, staff and children experienced watering eyes, wheezing and difficulty breathing, dizziness, blurred vision, headache, and nausea. According to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension Management Pesticide Education Program[2], the symptoms that teachers and students experienced the day of the pesticide application are typical signs of poisoning by organophosphate pesticides – a class of poisons commonly used near the school. Nevertheless, the agricultural commissioner’s response to community concern was that, “the applications were made consistent with pertinent laws, regulations and permit conditions.”

When we ask school, corporate, and government officials to tell us what dangers our children are being exposed to through the food they eat and the schools they attend, the answer is usually, “Everything is perfectly safe. Don’t worry about a thing. There is no problem here, whatsoever.” But what if your instincts tell you everything is not “perfectly safe”?

How can you find out for yourself what’s really going on? In California, you have the legal right to access pesticide use records.

After the exposure at the two schools in my district last Fall, I contacted the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and requested pesticide use reports.

Citizens at pesticide hearingWhat I Found Out

In addition to the two carcinogens that the Agricultural Commissioner admitted were used next to the schools, I found that many other EPA Category 1 restricted use acutely toxic pesticides are being regularly applied in close proximity to both schools. Following are some of the worst of those toxins:

Santa Cruz County Pesticide Use Permits 2016




alumminum phosphide: gophers (may also kill hawks and other birds) EPA Acute Toxicity Class I Restricted Use Chemical; heart, lungs, central nervous system; gastrointestinal tract; liver; kidneys[3]
cabaryl (“Sevin”)


a wide-spectrum carbamate insecticide (highly toxic to honeybees, crustaceans, fish, aquatic insects) carcinogen; affects nervous and respiratory systems; reduces sex hormones; reproductive toxin; affects the lungs, kidneys and liver; behavioral and neurological damage; mutagen; suspected a viral enhancer; immune suppressant; has been detected in muddy banks and groundwater

chloropicrin (“tear gas”)


a highly toxic and reactive soil fumigant (gas) with a tendency to drift far from intended target Class 1 Acute Toxicity; carcinogen; suspected reproductive & developmental toxin; inflames airways and respiratory system

chlorpyrifos (“Lorsban” “Dursban”)



  (Dow Chemical)


In June 2000 EPA and Dow AgroSciences agreed to stop sale of many uses of chlorpyrifos due to its health risk. March 2017 US EPA Chief Pruitt gave ok for resumption of widespread agricultural use



acutely toxic to bees, birds, mammals, aquatic life


“A 1996 study of children exposed to chlorpyrifos in utero found that extensive and unusual patterns of birth defects, including brain, nervous system, eyes, ears, palate, teeth, heart, feet, nipples, and genitalia.” [4]


may affect the central nervous system, the cardiovascular system, and respiratory system; skin and eye irritant. Symptoms of exposure can include numbness, tingling sensation, incoordination, dizziness, vomiting, sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, headache, vision disturbances, muscle twitching, drowsiness, anxiety, slurred speech, depression, confusion. Has been linked to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).


glyphosate (“Roundup”)



MIT researchers released a study in Winter, 2014 linking use of glyphosate with rising rate of autism





(You do the research.)

methyl bromide
http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/haloxyfop-methylparathion/methyl-bromide-ext.html   [5]


banned by the Montreal Protocal on Ozone Depleting Substances and scheduled for phase-out by the year 2000 but still widely used on strawberries; a Class 1 Ozone depleting chemical; significant greenhouse gas


prone to drift; a gas fumigant against insects, termites, rodents, weeds, nematodes, and soil-borne diseases; used to fumigate agricultural commodities, grain elevators, mills, ships, clothes, furniture and greenhouses


toxic to aquatic organisms

Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP) because of its high acute toxicity to applicators. Readily absorbed through the lungs. Effects range from skin and eye irritation to death.   Cumulative poison. Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, nausea, chest and abdominal pain, and a dry throat, slurred speech, blurred vision, temporary blindness, mental confusion, and sweating, lung swelling; irritates eyes and skin; rashes, itching and blisters; congestion; hemorrhaging of the brain, heart, and spleen; severe kidney damage; and numbness; fluid accumulation in the lungs, paralysis, and kidney, liver, and nervous system damage; vision and hearing disturbances, depression, confusion, hallucinations, euphoria, personality changes, and irritability. Depression of the central nervous system. Can affect muscle control and behavior. Other targets of the fumigant are the heart, nasal cavities, adrenal gland, and the testis. Evidence indicates that methyl bromide is a mutagen & carcinogen.



(see what you can find)

(agent of chemical warfare)


(Google it – be sure you fact check.)



toxic to bees (You can research more.)

telone (1,3-dichloropropene)



Many of these pesticides were developed for chemical warfare. Why are we waging chemical warfare on our school children?

Exposing a child or pregnant mother to just one of these poisons is unconscionable. What about serving up a multi-poison potion for our children to breathe while they are trying to get an education? Methyl Bromide, Chloropicrin, and Telone are well-known by the agricultural industry to be synergistic when used together to kill soil-borne organisms, which is why they are usually combined to fumigate the strawberry fields. Wouldn’t exposure to the combined chemicals also magnify toxicity to humans? “No problem. Don’t worry. Everything is perfectly safe.” Really?

A new report released by researchers at UCLA, “Exposure and Interaction: Potential Health Impacts of Using Multiple Pesticides,”[6] documents the synergistic effects of pesticides used in combination. Current pesticide assessment and regulation has not addressed the potential synergistic risk of multiple pesticide exposure even though “the California Environmental Quality Act (1970) mandates that Department of Pesticide Regulation identify and evaluate significant cumulative impacts of the use of a pesticide.”[7] The long-overdue UCLA case study focuses on the toxicological responses to mixtures of three chemicals commonly used in our area: Telone (1,3-dichloropropene), chloropicrin, and metam sodium. The rigourous scientific study finds “greater than additive enhancement” of cancer risk and neurological damage and recommends further study and enactment of regulation based on new information about the impacts of multiple chemical exposures.

We have been told for decades by regulatory agencies that there is not sufficient data to support the assertion that pesticides cause significant harm to people and environment. Yet a large body of peer-reviewed studies going back to Rachel Carson’s work would argue otherwise. Will this newly-published UCLA research be glossed over and forgotten by our regulatory agencies as many other studies have been? Perhaps. It’s up to us.

Citizens for Pesticide ReformIt’s Up To Us

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is currently drafting long-delayed new policy regarding pesticide applications near schools. The DPR will most likely ignore the new UCLA research findings . . . unless they hear from us. Ultimately, most of us would like to see a complete transition to socially just, environmentally sustainable organic and agro-ecological practices. But for now, we are asking for increased buffer zones around schools, drift monitoring, and notification prior to pesticide applications.

We need more Citizen Researchers to find out what’s really happening near our schools, behind the smoke screen that “everything is perfectly safe.” And we need to get involved in shaping new policies – “pertinent laws, regulations and permit conditions” – that reflect current scientific research and findings about pesticide exposure and other forms of chemical trespass.

Do you want to know the truth about chemical exposure in your community? Become a Citizen Researcher, share your discoveries and demand that public policy reflects current scientific findings. We have a right to know, and to raise our children in healthy communities.


[1] Schafer K, Marquez E, et al. 2013. A Generation in Jeopardy: How Pesticides are Undermining our Children’s Health & Intelligence. Pesticide Action Network North America. http://scruzclimact.pbworks.com/


[2] http://psep.cce.cornell.edu/Tutorials/core-tutorial/module09/index.aspx


[3] http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/24d-captan/aluminum-phosphide-ext.html


[5] http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/haloxyfop-methylparathion/methyl-bromide-ext.html


[6] Zaunbrecher V, Hattis D, Melnick R, Malloy T, et al. 2015. Exposure and Interaction: The Potential Health impacts of Using Multiple Pesticides. University of California Los Angeles School of Law and the Fielding School of Public Health Sustainable Technology & Policy Program.



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When Will Your Novel Be Published? When Can I Read It?

Thanks for your continued interest in my novel!

I had to take an online teaching job this year to make some money, so I didn’t get to work on revisions  as much as I wanted to – but, maybe it’s a good thing to let it “cool off” awhile.

I’m currently on REVISION 10. I’ve cut away a lot – whole scenes and even a character, but still need to trim more.

I worked with an excellent Mystery/Thriller writer editor this year who told me “you have a very credible, tight little mystery here, but just get rid of the rest of that stuff. No one but you mother will want to read it.”  I also worked with a SCI FI Fantasy writer/editor (who coached the author of Twilight and also the author of the great fantasy series Wheel of Time, among other notables).  He  helped me integrate the future-time disconnect/other world elements more smoothly into the story.

Since first starting to write four years ago, I’ve been to several helpful writer’s conferences, where I’ve pitched to agents. Mostly, the agents  are interested, and say they want to see it when it’s ready, but they’re concerned about the length and also don’t understand what genre to call it.

I’ve signed a contract to send the ms this month to a private editor who I originally I met at the San Francisco Writers Conference, then connected with again at the Women Writing in the Redwoods Retreat. She worked for years for one of the big New York publishers as a hot shot in-house editor. But she’s a local Monterey Bay girl, an ocean swimmer, whose husband’s relative worked in the strawberry fields! (In other words, I think she “gets” it.) She’s come home to the Monterey Bay with a new baby and is now working as an independent editor. She thinks my novel has “potential for commercial success”.  She’s HELLA expensive – I’m about to blow much of my life savings to have her edit the thing. (It has crossed my mind to try an indie-go-go or kickstarter fundraiser to pay for all this. Any suggestions?)

But come what may, I’m  OBSESSED with getting this novel completed, and out there. I’ve been worried that the story is too old, no longer of interest. But at last night’s Safe Strawberry meeting, I was astounded to discover that NONE of the issues we dealt with in the 90’s have been resolved, and the new activists are repeating our mistakes. I believe our history needs to be known so we can build on it!

Once I get back my editor’s comments and finish this round of revisions, I’m going to start looking for an agent. I’m giving myself a year to sell it. If no go, then I’m committed to self-publishing.

Your comments, likes and shares would be ENORMOUSLY helpful!

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New State Report on Pesticide Use Near Schools

I just drove home, on this beautiful full moon California night in June, from a meeting at the AFL-CIO Labor Hall in Salinas with the Safe Strawberry Working Group. When I got home, I said hello to my dogs, poured three fingers of Chivas Regal in my glass, and read over the news and information about the new state pesticide report.

According to the new state study, Agricultural Pesticide Use Near Public Schools in California, authored by the California Department of Public Health, released in April, 2014, “over the past 20 years, incidence of many serious childhood diseases has risen dramatically. Health professionals tell us that we have a ‘silent pandemic’ of learning disabilities and disorders including autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Certain childhood cancers – such as brain cancer and leukemia – are increasing, as are rates of childhood obesity and diabetes. On the Central Coast, researchers have demonstrated a link between exposure to pesticides and a reduction in children’s IQ. Science now points to pesticide exposure as a contributing factor – and in some cases, a key driver – of these trends. Over 500,000 students attend school within 1/4 mile of highly hazardous pesticide use; 118,000 students go to schools within 1/4 mile of the heaviest use of these pesticides. There are 137 county schools, with 73,876 students, within a quarter-mile of the highest concentration (319 to 28,979 pounds) of pesticides used.1 in 4 Monterey schoolchildren (the highest percentage in all of California) go to school within ¼ mile of heavy use of highly hazardous pesticides. Latino children are 91% more likely to be in heavy use areas than white children.” ( see Californian article: http://bit.ly/1johQE0    and Herald article http://bit.ly/1lnKTfm )

In response to the report, Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot wrote in a Monday column in The Californian, “The report makes no claim that children are being adversely affected by farming activities, but only implies that, by proximity, the use of agricultural chemicals near schools is automatically a bad thing. The perception this report infers is that use equals risk, which is falsely implied by not providing proper context of the regulatory process that exists to protect against exposure incidents.”

Norm’s statement is PURE BULLSHIT. Orwellian doublespeak. Meaningless obfuscation in a belittling tone, intended to confuse and make the listener/reader feel stupid and uninformed. The sentence is nonsense. The report infers a perception?  Non sequitur!   (a report can’t infer anything – utter b.s.)  “…falsely implied by not providing proper context of the regulatory process….”  Go back to English composition class, Norm.

I’m not usually so hard on my English students, but this guy is trying to pull a trick that’s so old it’s irritating; “Talk down to them, use pseudo-scientific/technical language and double talk to make them think they’re dumb and they don’t understand.” Nope. Not buying it. Let me give it to you in plain language, Norm. Here’s the deal: Pesticides are poison. It is insane to poison our kids. The pesticide poisoning needs to stop. Stop pretending you don’t understand, that the context is “improper”, or that you need “more research”. Cut the bull.

This report is nothing new. The issue of pesticide exposure around schools and in residential neighborhoods has been studied over and over again, for decades. See my blog entry on the DPR Permit Challenge Hearing we had in the Pajaro Valley on this issue in the 90’s.

Way back in 1989, Cesar Chavez said, “In the old days, miners would carry birds with them to warn against poison gas. Hopefully, the birds would die before the miners. Farm workers are society’s canaries.  Farm workers – and their children – demonstrate the effects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else.” Whenever people get interested in the issue again, a new study is proposed, then released with hoopla. There is some discussion about the “findings”, and then the issue blows over until next time, when a new study is called for with great fanfare. Then it’s critiqued; then dismissed or forgotten. We’ve had enough studies. We have peer reviewed scientific papers documenting the health effects of pesticide exposure: cancer, brain damage, nerve damage, respiratory failure, miscarriages, birth defects, and death. We need real change. Now. We need to transition completely away from chemical-intensive mono-crop industrial-style agriculture, and move to a sustainable ecological food system as soon as possible.

Eric Lauritzen, Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner, quibbles over details. Timing, he says. Timing schmiming – an hour before or after school? WTF! Never, Norm. Never on school days. Read my lips. Never apply pesticides near schools on school days.  And the ag comish claims that the report “… inflames rather than informs.” Apparently, the report is not inflammatory enough, Mr. Lauritzen, or you would act. You see, People, our agricultural commissioner has the power to mandate much safer practices, immediately – such as buffer zones at least 1/4 mile wide, no pesticide applications on school days,  72 hour pre-notification to all residents, schools, hospitals, and work places within drift range of all pesticide applications, large and clear fog-and-waterproof signs in Spanish and English posted on fumigated and sprayed fields.

Oh, but the ag comish and the Farm Bureau Director were up in Sacramento just as this report was being released, to derail SB1411 – a bill that would have required notification of schools and residents prior to fumigant, aerial and air-blast pesticide applications, and would have required that pesticide “do not enter” signs include the name of the pesticide, the phone number of the local agricultural commissioner and the expiration date of the sign. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would have provided greater protection to farmworkers and would have assisted first responders in an emergency. The bill was defeated. Shsssss. Don’t tell. Don’t tell people when you’re going to poison them. We don’t want them to know. Does that remind you of anything? Like, the abuser, pedophile, or wife beater, for example, who always says, “shhusssss. Don’t tell anyone.” That’s sick. Yep. It’s about time we scream ’til we’re heard and we get some help. Time to start screaming about this, everyone. This time, don’t stop screaming ’til we get a real, complete 911 rescue from the poison.

Come on. Just do it, Mr. Lauritzen. Mandate 1/4 mile or wider buffer zones, no school day applications, and proper notification. You can do it. You have the power. It would be the right thing to do. You know it. You’re just scared to rock the boat. Right? Sorry, but the boat is going to be rockin’ way more than you may expect, maybe sooner than you think. Did you know that methyl bromide, the fumigant used on strawberry fields, is an ozone depleting chemical, banned by international treaty?  Yet it’s still in use more than a decade after it was banned because strawberries are such a lucrative crop in California that congress grants the growers “critical exemptions” to apply the banned substance. By the way, methyl bromide is also a dangerous greenhouse gas – a serious contributor to global warming.

Here’s something else you need to stop pretending you don’t believe: If we have any chance at all as a species to preserve our global food security and mitigate inevitable mass human die-offs from climate-change induced world-wide famines, we need to immediately redesign and shift our food production as well as our energy systems. Commercial, chemical-intensive strawberry production poisons people and destroys the soil. It relies on dangerous petrochemicals that drive global warming. It’s far too water intensive.  It fosters unjust political-economic conditions. The planet cannot continue to support these unsustainable practices. Big beautiful strawberries will be one of the first things thrown overboard as our boat sinks and over 50% of our biodiversity becomes extinct. “Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand. The times, they are a’changing.”

Meanwhile, BUY ORGANIC! Go down to the Redman House Farm stand on the way to Palm Beach – or to your nearest Farmers’ Market – and buy some organic strawberries. They are big, they are beautiful, they are delicious, they are NOT poison, and the their workers and the kids nearby weren’t poisoned either.



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Meeting Agents

I’m at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. Today was Agent’s Day. I met with five agents, who each read my first five pages and heard my pitch. All of the agents were shocked and amazed by the fact that methyl bromide and chloropicrin are still being used to grow strawberries. All felt strongly that the story needs to be told.

I’m sending my manuscript to a professional thriller editor this month, for the final revision and polishing. Then it goes out to the agents.

If you’re interested in receiving a free advance copy, let me know.

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Coming Out: Exultation and Sorrow

Yesterday I Came Out. Five of my very knowledgeable and astute friends accepted copies of the First Draft of The Death of the Gecko to read and critique. After writing “in the closet” for two and a half years, it was a very exhilarating and scary feeling to expose my work to other people.

Being a retired writing teacher, I provided my dear readers with a Rubric. Several readers were willing to work with a PDF version of the manuscript, and two of my readers requested hard copies. Emailing proved to be iffy for such a large file size, so I ended up putting the entire first draft of my novel up on the web as a downloadable PDF. Talk about feeling exposed! But now that it’s up there, I’m starting to think about just being open to letting anyone read the manuscript who wants to. For now, I’m not really advertising that it’s there. But it is out there! If you feel like taking a look, I’d love it! If you do download and read the manuscript, I would very much appreciate your comments!

What I am still really hoping for is that someone might visit my BLOG and make a comment. So far, no visitors… Hello? Anyone there?

Why Sorrow? A very shocking and tragic event occurred yesterday, the day of my “coming out”. One of the people who had agreed to review/critique my manuscript is my dear friend and writing mentor, Don Rothman.

Don was a Bay Area Writing Project teacher and mentor. He taught many teachers, including myself, how to teach writing. And Don is actually one of the spiritual Fathers of my novel. Here’s why: Right after I retired from teaching, I was harvesting grapes in the Santa Barbara hills at Condor’s Hope Ranch with Don, Sarah Rabkin, and other friends. While we picked grapes, we talked about Sarah’s outstanding online oral history project for UCSC on the organic farming movement. I mentioned that Farm Without Harm hadn’t been included in the stories. So, Don and Sarah encouraged me to write the story myself – the story of Farm without Harm and the parents and teachers in Watsonville who challenged conventional strawberry growers’ permits to fumigate near schools with methyl bromide. That conversation among the grape vines catalyzed the creation of my novel, The Death of the Gecko.

Don stayed in touch, with periodic encouragement, while I wrote. Yesterday, he was planning to come to my house to pick up a hard copy of the manuscript. He seemed genuinely excited about reading the novel. I was thrilled that he was willing to do a whole manuscript critique. The evening before last, he emailed me to make final arrangements for coming over the next day. Then, about an hour before he was due to arrive, I got a phone call from a tearful Robbie Gliessman of Condor’s Hope. She was calling from Don’s house, at the request of his wife, to tell me that Don had passed away in his sleep that night.

Shock. Sorrow. Don was in his 60’s. That seems too young. It’s always so hard to loose the good people. Don was an outstanding human being. So interested in Life, and in others, generous with his time and his wisdom. Brimming over with knowledge, insight, and good humor. Thank you, Don, for your friendship and mentorship. You are missed.

Such a loss takes the breath away. So hard to adjust to the fact that one so vital and present has suddenly vanished. Life is so precious and ephemeral. Every breath is sweet. What a gift to be a human being on Planet Earth, to be, as Kurt Vonnegut says, “standing up mud”, able to look around, see the sparkling water, smell the redwoods, hear the rain, touch someone you love … if only for a brief time. Such a gift. Thank you.

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