Albion Monitor /Features
 Project Censored: 1995 Story # 9

U.S. Chemical Industry Fights for Toxic Ozone-Killing Pesticide

Methyl bromide is a pesticide that is at least 50 times more destructive to the ozone layer, atom for atom, than chlorofluoro-carbons (CFCs) yet America's chemical industry is fighting to prevent it from being banned.

In 1992, the United Nations estimated that the bromine atoms released into the upper atmosphere are responsible for five-to-ten percent of global ozone depletion, a share that is expected to increase to 15 percent by the year 2000.

In 1994, the UN listed elimination of methyl bromide (MB) as the most significant remaining approach (after phase-out of CFCs and halons) to reducing ozone depletion. UN scientists conclude that eliminating MB emissions from agricultural, structural, and industrial activities by the year 2001 would achieve a 13 percent reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals reaching the atmosphere over the next 50 years.

MB also is extremely toxic and can cause acute and chronic health effects. Farmworkers, pesticide applicators, and people living or working where MB is used can suffer poisoning, neurological damage and reproductive harm. The chemical is so toxic to humans and animals that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a Category 1 acute toxin, the most deadly group of substances.

For 60 years, MB has been used to kill pests in soils and buildings, and on agricultural products. In 1991, the U.S. accounted for nearly 40 percent of the pesticide's worldwide use. Soil fumigation to sterilize soil before planting crops is by far the largest use of MB in the U.S. Worldwide, most MB is used for luxury and export crops, like tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, tobacco and nursery crops.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has mandated a halt to MB production in, and import to, the U.S. in 2001-but manufacturers and agricultural users have mounted a formidable campaign to delay the ban. Because no gradual phaseout is required, methyl bromide can be used without major restrictions until 2001. Since the act does not prohibit the use of existing stocks after 2001, application of the pesticide can continue as long as stockpiled supplies last.

The Methyl Bromide Global Coalition (MBGC)-a group of eight international MB users and producers-has launched a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to keep the product on the market. A leaked document from the Methyl Bromide Working Group, which includes Ethyl Corp. and Great Lakes Chemical Corp., the country's major MB producers, ignores reports of record ozone depletion, and states, "If we continue to work together, we stand an increasingly good chance of being able to use methyl bromide well beyond the year 2001."

While some nations are actively fighting a phaseout, other countries have already banned or vigorously regulated MB. In 1992, the Netherlands eliminated all soil fumigation using MB, and other countries, including Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, are planning similar actions.

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SOURCE: EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL, Summer 1995, "Campaign Against Methyl Bromide: Ozone-Killing Pesticide Opposed," by Anne Schonfield, p 19.

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Albion Monitor March 30, 1996 (

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