The Environmental Protection Agency proposed tighter restrictions Thursday on highly toxic soil fumigant pesticides used in growing strawberries, tomatoes and other crops.

Pesticide critics called the proposals “substantial improvements” but said they wouldn’t fully protect farmworkers and the public.

The changes — applying to chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium/potassium, methyl isothiocyanate and methyl bromide — call for buffer zones, air quality monitoring, fumigation management plans, and training for emergency responders and applicators.

The proposals, which would take effect in 2010, come after nearly four years of EPA reassessment of the fumigants, which are injected into soil to kill insects, weeds and diseases. The pesticides have been shown to give off toxic gases that farmworkers can inhale and that can waft into neighborhoods, and they have been linked to health problems such as respiratory difficulties.

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