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Daily News Archive
From September 19, 2006                                                                                                        

U.S. Stockpiles Chemical Banned by United Nations
(Beyond Pesticides, September 19, 2006)
Documents recently made public show that the United States has stockpiled millions of pounds of methyl bromide, a toxic gas used in agriculture and also a leading ozone-depleter. Banned under the United Nations’ Montreal Protocol for the past two years (excluding farmers who have no immediate alternative to the chemical), methyl bromide has continued to be produced in the U.S. despite a stockpile that would last American farmers for more than a year.

When the treaty’s ratifying nations convene in New Delhi in October to set 2008 allocations, it will be the first time since the treaty was signed in 1987 that other countries will have access to the size of U.S. reserves. President Bush is said to be seeking U.N. approval to use 14 million pounds of methyl bromide in 2008.

Methyl bromide, used most heavily in the U.S. in Florida and California, is injected into the soil to kill a variety of pests. David McAllister, Manager of fumigant product issues for the country’s only manufacturer, Chemtura Corp., argued that having more than a year’s supply on hand was necessary in the event of “a catastrophic interruption in supply or some sort of pest infestation that was unanticipated.” As to why U.S. growers were so dependent on the reserve, McAllister said, “Clearly if economically and technically viable alternatives were available, growers would be using them instead.”

While its stockpile has dropped by 75% since 1991, the U.S. is still the largest user of methyl bromide, as other countries only store a couple of months’ worth before producing more. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has been working for two years to have the data released, “there’s absolutely no justification for having a huge inventory” of the chemical, especially since the treaty says all nations “should have as little on hand as possible.” David D. Doniger, Policy Director of the NRDC, said, “The EPA has hidden how much stockpile it’s had, so the other countries haven’t been in the position of saying, ‘You’ve got this stuff, you have to use it first.’” EPA did not comment on the possibility that the now known size of the stockpile could ultimately reduce the amount of methyl bromide the U.S. would be allowed to produce in 2008.

While this newly released data may push the U.N. to reduce U.S. production of methyl bromide, the Bush administration will likely remain committed to their projected totals. Bush has been criticized for a lack of commitment to environmental measures, including when the administration made proposals in 2004 that would have exempted methyl bromide from the Montreal Protocol altogether.