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Interview with KID News and Dr. Curl about USDA Funded Study of Methyl Bromide on Eastern Idaho Farms.


Interviewer: We’re back now, on KID News Radio 590 AM and 921 FM. Joining us, Dr. Cynthia Curl, Assistant Professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Health at Boise State University also a pesticide researcher, Dr. Curl welcome, good to have you with us today.

Curl: Thanks, thanks for having me.

Interviewer: Well we have this story which is really unfortunate for some families here in east Idaho, apparently a pesticide was applied to stop the potato cyst nematode but it has some unintended consequences on some other crops and livestock as well, so maybe kind of lay this out for us, what exactly happened and what you think the future looks like.

Curl: Sure, so the Idaho State Department of Agriculture worked in conjunction with the USDA to be pretty aggressive to try to eradicate this nematode to preserve the integrity of the potato industry for Idaho, and one of the things that they did to manage this pest was apply Methobromide which is a fumigant, and it is a pretty effective fumigant. Its been used for a long time, this is not a new compound. We also continue to use it in the Strawberry industry in California. The biggest concern about this pesticide is that it destroys the ozone layer. It’s a gas, so the way that we apply it is we inject it into the soil and then immediately cover the soil in plastic to try and hold that gas in the ground in order for it to be effective. Typically what happens is it volatilizes them when you worry about this pesticide you usually worry about the ozone layer or you worry about any bystanders who might be kind of near the field. Those are the typical concerns. What seems to of happened here is that, we did such a good job with the plastic tarping that was used and with all of the procedures that were done according to the regulations, that it was kept in the ground long enough that the Methobromide broke down to form¬†Inorganic Bromide, which is a known product of Methobromide but often the gas isn’t retained in the soil long enough to form enough of it to be a problem. It seems like what happened here was that it was taken up into some crops that were grown in those fields, non potato crops, after the Methobromide was applied.

Interviewer: Okay, so one of the examples that I read about in the news stories, that there were some cattle that started having some lesions and were unable to have calves, so there were problems with fertility and that sort of thing. Do you know how wide-spread this might be, I mean is this contained at this point?

Curl: My understanding is that it is contained. This is an unusual situation, in some ways I’m thinking about it as kind of a perfect storm where you have this kind of vertical integration on this farms where these farmers were growing alfalfa since they couldn’t grow potatoes anymore because of the cyst’s and then they fed that alfalfa to their own cows and the alfalfa took up more bromide than you would normally see in the kinds of crops where people have used Methobromide in the past. That bromide in the alfalfa we believe is what led to the problems with the cows. My understanding is that was contained to that farm and that situation and the USDA has been working very closely with them.

Interviewer: Okay, so you can probably safely say that there is no threat to the human population in the area then?

Curl: No, I don’t think so.

Interviewer: Okay, now you’re not a legal expert given your background but I’ll ask you this question anyway, were you a little bit surprised that the USDA declined to compensate these families? I mean, clearly, and like you said maybe it was just a perfect storm that was unavoidable, but were you a little bit surprised there was pretty much zero effort or compassion on the part of the federal government to make things right?

Curl: I think that it’s very clear that this was not the fault of the families. This is something that they were told they had to do and then this happened and there was no negligence on there part, so you hate to see something like that happen. You’re right, that I’m not a legal expert so I don’t know how things work to get things made right, but you sure would like to see things made right for them.

Interviewer: Yeah, so in the future, what do you think is going to happen? I mean the Bromide threat is, I mean all of that hay is accounted for, all the livestock is accounted for, in terms of applying this fumigant in the future, do you think the processes may change a little bit to ensure that this doesn’t happen again?

Curl: Oh yes, so one of the reasons I’m involved or one of the ways that I’m involved is that the USDA has funded us to do a study out there, in those fields, to better understand all the different crops that might take up this Inorganic Bromide that were applied in this situation in this way. So we actually have 32 test plots that are going in out in eastern Idaho right now and we’re doing extensive sampling and trying to find different soil amendments and trying to understand what happened and how to move forward in these fields.

Interviewer: Alright, our guest today, Dr. Cynthia Curl from Boise State University, she’s a pesticide researcher, also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Health. Dr. Curl we sure appreciate your expertise today.

Curl: Thank you so much for having me.