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Daily News Archive
From December 20, 2006                                                                                                        

EPA Allows Exemption for Ozone Depleting Pesticide
(Beyond Pesticides, December 20, 2006) Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued exemptions allowing the production and importation of 9.48 million pounds of the ozone-depleting chemical methyl bromide in 2007, even though chemical producers and distributors hold huge stockpiles of the toxic pesticide large enough to meet all legitimate needs.

Methyl bromide was supposed to be banned after 2004 under the ozone layer protection treaty called the Montreal Protocol, and the Clean Air Act. The Montreal treaty and the Clean Air Act allow exemptions only for "critical uses" -- where there are no alternatives. Further, the treaty and the Clean Air Act allow new production only after stockpiles have been used up.

According to a press release issued by the Natural Resources and Defense Council (NRDC), for the third year running, EPA is allowing millions of pounds of new production. EPA figures obtained by NRDC in September indicate that the stockpiles will total well over 12 million pounds at the end of this year.

NRDC policy director, David Doniger said, "There is enough methyl bromide sitting in railroad tankers and other storage depots to take care of every farmer with a real need for it." Mr. Doniger continued, "With the ozone layer in such serious trouble, the EPA shouldn't allow chemical companies to make even more."

Based on NRDC calculations, EPA continues to allow farmers and agribusinesses who were not given critical exemptions to continue drawing millions of pounds of the chemical from the stockpiles, which totaled as much as six million pounds in 2005. The heavy agricultural use of methyl bromide not only poses problems to those working on the farms, but also to those living, working and playing in the vicinity of the farms. Of major concern are schools. Experts say that methyl bromide can seep into the air causing even more worry about pesticide drift, particularly under windy conditions.

Methyl Bromide damages and depletes the planet's stratospheric ozone layer and is 50 times stronger than the now-banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The toxic pesticide is used on grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, grain storage, and in structural pest control, primarily in California and Florida. It has been found to cause birth defects and brain damage in laboratory animals.

According to NRDC’s press release, two chemical companies stand to gain the most from the government's treaty violations - a chemical maker called Chemtura (formerly called Great Lakes Chemicals), and an importer, Ameribrom (importing methyl bromide from Israel). The companies have projected that they will earn between $60 million and $80 million from the approximately 20 million pounds of bonus production over the next two years. The current selling price of methyl bromide ranges between $3-$4 per pound. However, it sold for much more in the past few years, when unnecessary production was occurring. Other companies currently produce viable alternatives to methyl bromide.

David Doniger said, "EPA is allowing a kind of 'black market' where those who are not supposed to be using this ozone-destroying chemical anymore can still get as much as they want from the stockpiles. There are alternatives, and farmers have been switching to them for years. It's time to stop coddling the laggards and support the leaders."

The Montreal Protocol, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and supported by subsequent U.S. presidents from both political parties, is intended to protect the ozone layer, which shields us from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation that increases risks of skin cancer, cataracts and immunological disease. Methyl bromide also causes prostate cancer in agricultural workers and others who are directly exposed, according to the National Cancer Institute.

TAKE ACTION: Ensure your food is not treated with methyl bromide by buying organic. Write President Bush in the White House and insist that the U.S. comply with the Montreal Protocol and begin implementing alternatives.

For more information contact: Eben Burnham-Snyder, NRDC, 202/513-6254 or 703/357-5428 cell