9. U.S. Chemical Industry Fights For Toxic Ozone-Killing
SOURCE: EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL, Summer 1995, "Campaign Against Methyl
Bromide: Ozone-Killing Pesticide Opposed";* Author: Anne Schonfield
SYNOPSIS: 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
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 US 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 US
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 US 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.
SSU Censored Researcher: Brad Hood
COMMENTS: Despite press releases to nearly 400 journalists,
follow-up calls to many of them, and the distribution of 2,500 briefing
kits, the methyl bromide issue received limited coverage in some local
newspapers and no coverage by network TV, the news weeklies,k or major
dailies, according to investigative writer Anne Schonfield. In general,
she added, "New scientific reports about continuing ozone depletion,
and methyl bromide in particular, received little media attention in
the US (while in Canada, for example, ozone depletion and UV-B exposure
are regularly covered in weather reports on TV). Down under, in Australia,
Chile and New Zealand, coverage is also common.
"Methyl bromide is a classic illustration of the interconnected
hazards caused by synthetic pesticides. This invisible, odorless gas
is extremely dangerous to farm workers, to people who live or work near
where it is used and those who re-enter fumigated structures, causing
health problems ranging from mild irritation to death. If Americans
knew more about methyl bromide, they would think twice about buying
conventionally-grown strawberries and Florida tomatoes (which are almost
universally produced with methyl bromide) and other crops that may look
wholesome but are actually harming farmworkers and killing the soil.
"Moreover, methyl bromide is destroying the ozone layer. It is
this global impact, well-documented by international science panels,
that should be generating media coverage. However, Americans seem to
believe that ozone depletion has been taken care of since many countries
have banned CFCs, the most well-known ozone depletors. In fact, ozone
depletion continues to worsen every year and is expected to peak around
"The producers of methyl bromide (primarily Great Lakes Chemical
and Albemarle Corporation in the US and Dead Sea Bromine in Israel)
certainly benefit from the lack of exposure on this issue (interestingly,
both U.S.-based companies have production facilities in Arkansas), as
do the specialized companies that inject the chemical into the soil
(such as Trical in California). The producers and major users are actively
debunking the science of ozone depletion and point to their investments
in alternatives (not surprisingly, they're focused on chemical alternatives
rather than those that will not produce fat agrichemical corporate profits)."
Schonfield adds that there is a coalition of 17 consumer, health, environmental
justice and labor groups, called the Methyl Bromide Alternatives Network,
working to increase media attention and public awareness of methyl bromide.
The coalition ranges from big organizations like Friends of the Earth
and NRDC to farmworker self-help groups, black southern farm co-ops
and labor unions. But despite numerous press releases, petitions, editorial
calls and wide distribution of briefing kits, "it has been very
difficult to get more than occasional media attention to this issue
(usually from freelancers), and it has not been picked up by wire services,
papers of recored, or the networks."
On December 10, 1995, The New YHork Times reported that more than 100
governments agreed to phase out developed countries' production of methyl
bromide. The agreement called for the manufacture of methyl bromide
to be cut by 25 percent by 2001, 50 percent by 2005, and 100 percent
by 2010. It also noted that parties to the accord will meet in 1996
to consider allowing exemptions for "critical agricultural use."