Demand for More Ozone-Depleting Pesticide Production Rattles Successful Global Treaty, Raises Major Health and Environmental Threats
WASHINGTON, DC (March 4, 2004) - The Bush/Cheney administration is proposing to increase production of methyl bromide, an ozone-destroying and cancer-causing pesticide set to be phased out under a successful 170-nation treaty to protect the Earth's ozone layer, which protects us from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation.
The treaty, known as the Montreal Protocol, was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and has enjoyed the support of every U.S. president since then. But some pesticide, chemical and corporate agribusiness firms are trying to weaken it.
"This is the first time any country has tried to reverse the phase-out and increase production of an ozone-destroying chemical that is supposed to be eliminated," said David Doniger, Climate Center policy director at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "The Bush administration is putting Americans' health at risk by catering to big chemical and agribusiness companies."
Depletion of the ozone layer increases risks of skin cancer, cataracts and immunological disease for millions of people. Methyl bromide also causes prostate cancer in agricultural workers. Methyl bromide fumes are frequently detected in Florida and California homes, church basements, and schools located near treated fields.
Administration demands filed with treaty authorities this week would increase production of methyl bromide -- the most potent ozone-depleting chemical still in widespread use -- by more than one-third, reversing 10 years of progress in eliminating the chemical. The Bush administration request exceeds the requests from all other countries combined, and would allow 21.9 million pounds of methyl bromide next year and 20.8 million pounds in 2006.
The administration's new request adds to excessive U.S. exemption demands already rebuffed during treaty negotiations last November in Nairobi, Kenya. A special negotiating session will be held March 24-26 in Montreal to try again to reach agreement.
Methyl bromide production has already been successfully cut to 30 percent of peak 1991 levels under the Montreal treaty. The remaining 30 percent is to be phased out by 2005, except for uses that the treaty parties agree are "critical."
"These exemptions reward powerful growers and food processors that have dragged their heels and failed to adopt safer alternatives," Doniger said. "Those who have invested time and money to do the right thing get penalized."