Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
October 20, 1998
SAN FRANCISCO - Bowing to pressure from special interests, President Clinton and Congress have agreed to delay the scheduled phaseout of the toxic and ozone depleting pesticide methyl bromide. Environmentalists and community groups in California today called the move an irresponsible sellout to the agrichemical industry that endangers public health and the environment.
"In approving this legislation, Congress and the President are saying they don't care about the California communities and farmworkers who continue to be poisoned by this dangerous pesticide," said Kristin Schafer, Program Coordinator with the Pesticide Action Network. "The delay also means continued destruction of the ozone layer just when it is most vulnerable. This means more skin cancer, cataracts and weakened immune systems for people around the world - including Californians."
The language delaying the methyl bromide ban, which had been scheduled for January 2001 under the Clean Air Act, was introduced by Rep. Vic Fazio (D-CA) as a last-minute rider to the agricultural appropriations bill. The original bill was vetoed by the President on October 8, then became part of the omnibus appropriations bill, expected to be given final approval by Congress today.
Fazio's rider delays the methyl bromide ban until 2005. The amendment also includes language which will allow the United States to continue using methyl bromide under special exemption "loopholes" after the ban takes effect. Methyl bromide producers in the United States will also be allowed to continue manufacturing and exporting methyl bromide to developing countries up to and after the ban.
"This is is the sort of sellout to agrichemical interests we've come to expect from Vic Fazio," said Bill Walker, California director of the Environmental Working Group. "But it is a serious betrayal of the Clinton Admininistration's commitment to protect the environment and public health. Methyl bromide has been scheduled for phaseout in California since 1984 -- how much longer will we allow this dangerous and unnecessary chemical to remain on the market?"
Methyl bromide has been found to cause birth defects and brain damage in laboratory animals, and dangerous levels of drift have been documented in neighborhoods and schools near fields where it is applied. More than 17 million pounds of the pesticide were applied in California in 1995, and in 1996 a scheduled statewide ban under the Birth Defects Prevention Act was delayed by Governor Wilson.
"Politicians at both the state and national levels have turned their backs on the people suffering from exposure to methyl bromide," said Jeanne Merrill of Pesticide Watch. "Since President Clinton enjoys visiting California often, we invite him and the other politicians who went along with this deal to visit the Central Coast during methyl bromide fumigation season and experience firsthand what these communities face."
Methyl bromide is primarily used as a fumigant to sterilize soil before planting. In California, strawberries use the majority of methyl bromide (4.2 million pounds in 1995), followed by grapes, almonds and other crops. The pesticide is also used heavily in Florida by tomato producers.
Under the international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, methyl bromide will be banned by all industrialized countries in 2005, with interim cuts of 25 percent in 1999, 50 percent in 2001, and 70 percent in 2003. Many countries in Europe have already banned the pesticide or will do so before 2001, and the European Union is currently considering a 2001 phaseout date. Alternatives have been documented worldwide for most methyl bromide uses.
Methyl bromide is a fast-acting and potent ozone-depleting chemical, destroying 50 times more ozone per molecule than now-banned CFCs. NASA recently reported that the Antarctic ozone hole is the largest and deepest ever documented this year - approximately the size of Canada and the United States combined.
Kristin Schafer, Pesticide Action Network (415) 981-6205 ext.327
Bill Walker, Environmental Working Group (415) 561-6698
Jeanne Merrill, Pesticide Watch (415) 292-1489