PANNA: What Ozone Layer? U.S. Wants to Use More Methyl Bromide


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PANUPS: What Ozone Layer? U.S. Wants to Use More Methyl Bromide
February 7, 2003

Take Action: Contact U.S. legislators to stop a dangerous methyl bromide amendment to a bill currently being considered by the U.S. Congress. Visit:

The Bush administration has approved requests for the continued use of methyl bromide, a potent ozone-depleting pesticide that is slated to be phased out in 2005 under an international treaty. Should the U.S. exemptions be approved by international reviewers, repair of the damaged ozone layer could be postponed for years.

Methyl bromide is a toxic gas that has been used since the 1960’s to sterilize soils, fumigate grain-milling operations and treat exports and imports to kill invasive pests. A potent nerve toxin, methyl bromide kills weeds, insects, nematodes and all manner of other pests, allowing farmers and nursery owners to work on fields that are a biological clean slate. It is also extremely toxic to humans, causing many acute poisonings and chronic illnesses for those who live and work in areas where methyl bromide is used.

The proposed U.S. exemptions undermine the Montreal Protocol, a 15-year-old pact to protect the ozone layer that is widely perceived as the most effective environmental treaty ever negotiated. Under the Protocol, industrialized countries agreed to reduce methyl bromide use by 25% in 1999 (using 1991 levels as a baseline); by 50% in 2002; and by 70% in 2003 with a total ban taking effect in 2005. The treaty gives developing countries a 10-year grace period before they must stop using the gas.

Methyl bromide users from strawberry growers to flour millers, from cut flower producers to universities and golf courses–have submitted 54 applications for “critical-use exemptions” to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All but two of the exemptions have been approved by EPA. As a result, use of the pesticide in the U.S. could rise sharply in 2005, exceeding levels now allowed under the treaty and federal law.

To allow for these increases, agribusiness interests have proposed an amendment to an appropriations bill currently being considered in the U.S. Congress. The amendment, backed by the American Farm Bureau, Florida officials and other methyl bromide lobbying groups, would roll back reductions achieved so far, raising allowed methyl bromide use back to the 50% level and forbidding further reduction requirements under the Clean Air Act or federal pesticide laws. Its passage would immediately place the U.S. in violation of the Montreal Protocol.

Under the Protocol, the requested “critical-use exemptions” will be submitted to an international committee of three dozen experts, including U.S. government scientists, for review this spring. Exemptions are allowed under the treaty only in situations where there are no effective substitutes or where markets will be disrupted. Companies producing substitutes contend that any significant exemptions will simply delay shifts toward other methods of controlling pests.

According to the New York Times, one European government official stated, “A critical use should be a critical use.” The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said very few exemptions have been granted for other ozone-depleting substances. These include continued use of banned chlorofluorocarbons, for example, in powering asthma inhalers. Methyl chloroform, another banned chemical, is still allowed for cleaning the O-rings on the space shuttle’s booster rockets.

Environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and PAN North America, have criticized the Bush administration’s efforts to undercut the treaty. They point out that numerous alternatives for methyl bromide have been developed and documented, and that there is no reason to continue use of this potent ozone destroyer.

For information on methyl bromide alternatives, visit

To view the applications for exemptions, visit

Sources: Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Times, January 29 and February 7, 2003. PANNA Methyl Bromide publications:

Contact: PANNA.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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