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California May Ease Restrictions on Ozone-Depleting Pesticide
(Beyond Pesticides, May 20, 2003)
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is considering allowing higher concentrations of methyl bromide, a biocide widely used on strawberries, despite the fact that it is scheduled to be phased out by 2005 under the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty to protect the ozone layer.

Methyl bromide, a colorless, odorless gas, is pumped into the ground prior to planting strawberries and other crops to eliminate soil-bound insects, weeds and fungus. Methyl bromide is an ozone depleter 50 times stronger than now-banned CFCs. It is used on grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, in grain storage, and structural pest control, primarily in California and Florida. It has been found to cause birth defects and brain damage in laboratory animals. Air sampling has found methyl bromide levels well exceeding state safety guidelines in California nearby neighborhoods and schools and has caused thousands of poisons in California alone.

The California DPR says it based its decision to open the debate on methyl bromide on new research data that suggests the pesticide may not be as dangerous at higher levels as previously thought. However, environmentalists question the legitimacy of the scientific studies since most were conducted by the methyl bromide industry or by universities that receive funding from the chemical industry.

"The Department of Pesticide Regulation is going in the wrong direction," Bill Magavern, legislative representative for the Sierra Club told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "They should be phasing out methyl bromide rather than allowing more of it to be used." Mr. Magavern added that looser regulations would cause more farmworkers to get sick and slow the recovery of the ozone layer.

In February, the Bush Administration began pushing for exemptions for methyl bromide from the Montreal Protocol. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. is currently in violation of the treaty. Read more in the February 11, 2003 Daily News.