Bush Admin. Refuses to Stop Production or "Black Market" in Methyl Bromide Use

WASHINGTON (December 13, 2006) -- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday issued exemptions allowing the production and importation of 9.48 million pounds of the ozone-depleting chemical methyl bromide in 2007, even though chemical producers and distributors hold huge stockpiles of the toxic pesticide large enough to meet all legitimate needs.

Methyl bromide was supposed to be banned after 2004 under the ozone layer protection treaty called the Montreal Protocol, and the Clean Air Act. The Montreal treaty and the Clean Air Act allow exemptions only for "critical uses" -- where there are no alternatives. Further, the treaty and the Clean Air Act allow new production only after stockpiles have been used up.

For the third year running, EPA is allowing millions of pounds of new production. EPA figures obtained by NRDC in September indicate that the stockpiles will total well over 12 million pounds at the end of this year.

"There is enough methyl bromide sitting in railroad tankers and other storage depots to take care of every farmer with a real need for it," said David Doniger, policy director for the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "With the ozone layer in such serious trouble, the EPA shouldn't allow chemical companies to make even more."

EPA continues to allow farmers and agribusinesses who were not given critical exemptions to continue drawing millions of pounds of the chemical from the stockpiles, totaling as much as 6 million pounds in 2005, according to NRDC calculations.

Two chemical companies stand to gain the most from the government's treaty violations - a chemical maker called Chemtura (formerly called Great Lakes Chemicals), and an importer, Ameribrom (importing methyl bromide from Israel). They will earn between $60 million and $80 million from the approximately 20 million pounds of bonus production over the next two years. Methyl bromide currently sells for $3-$4 per pound, but has sold for much more in the past few years, when unnecessary production was occurring. Dow Agrosciences and other companies currently produce viable alternatives to methyl bromide.

"EPA is allowing a kind of 'black market' where those who are not supposed to be using this ozone-destroying chemical anymore can still get as much as they want from the stockpiles," Doniger added. "There are alternatives, and farmers have been switching to them for years. It's time to stop coddling the laggards and support the leaders."

The Montreal Protocol, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and supported by subsequent U.S. presidents from both political parties, is intended to protect the ozone layer, which shields us from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation that increases risks of skin cancer, cataracts and immunological disease. Methyl bromide also causes prostate cancer in agricultural workers and others who are directly exposed, according to the National Cancer Institute.