NRDC Sues Feds for Hiding Methyl Bromide Pesticide Data

Administration Helps Industry Hide Huge Stockpiles in Effort to Reverse Phase-Out of Toxic, Ozone-Destroying Chemical

WASHINGTON, DC (August 3, 2004) - Bush administration EPA officials are helping a handful of chemical suppliers hide a massive stockpile of the toxic, ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) charged today.

The administration has is pushing hard to reverse the scheduled phase-out of methyl bromide. The Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to release data on stockpiles of this dangerous chemical, but partial data given to Congress earlier this year confirms that a handful of companies are sitting on well over a year's supply, undermining administration claims that the chemical is in short supply.

Hoping to overcome official stonewalling, NRDC this week filed suit in Federal District Court to force officials to make the full stockpile information public. EPA would not have to disclose where the chemical is stored, only the total quantities known by the agency to exist in the sprawling supply chain. Large stockpiles undermine the official rationale for rolling back methyl bromide production limits.

"Methyl bromide is a story about greed, not need. Suppliers are trying to overturn successful ozone layer safeguards and keep growers hooked on this dangerous product," said David Doniger, NRDC's Climate Policy Director. "EPA is helping them by playing hide-and-seek with the facts. If the stockpile information were made public, we are quite certain it would show there is more than enough methyl bromide already on hand to meet any legitimate needs."

EPA has collected data on methyl bromide stockpiles but refuses to disclose the actual amount, saying the companies have claimed it is confidential. However an EPA letter to Congress and another EPA document obtained by NRDC indicate that existing stocks are huge: at least 22 million pounds, which is more than the production increases the administration is seeking. The unanswered question is, how huge?

The EPA documents, and an analysis of the stockpile amounts, are available from NRDC.

Methyl bromide is scheduled for phase-out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a treaty signed by President Ronald Reagan and supported by subsequent U.S. presidents from both political parties. The accord 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.

Ironically, methyl bromide users may also be getting the short end of the stick. In recent years, prices of the chemical have increased sharply due to artificial worries over short supplies.

What's more, other EPA data obtained earlier this year shows methyl bromide use is falling even more sharply than expected, with production cut to 25 percent of peak 1991 levels under the Montreal treaty. The remainder is to be phased out by 2005, except for uses that the treaty parties agree are "critical."

"These unnecessary exemptions only reward those who drag their heels, hide the facts, and obstruct the transition to safer alternatives," Doniger said. "Those who have invested time and money to do the right thing get penalized."