The Chemical That Must Not Be Named
By Stephen Leahy
MONTREAL, Canada, Sep 20 (IPS) – Delegates from 191 nations are on the verge of an agreement under the Montreal Protocol for faster elimination of ozone-depleting chemicals, but the United States insists it must continue to use the banned pesticide methyl bromide.
Even as another enormous ozone hole forms over the Antarctic this week, the rest of the world appears to be giving in to U.S. demands despite the fact that the use of methyl bromide in developed countries was supposed to have been completely phased out by Jan. 1, 2005 under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
“It’s a black mark on this meeting. It is the chemical that must not be named,” said David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defence Council, a U.S. environmental group.
“There is a powerful lobby group of strawberry and vegetable growers in Washington,” Doniger told IPS.
Methyl bromide is a highly toxic fumigant pesticide which is injected into soil to sterilise it before planting crops. It is also used as a post-harvest decontaminant of products and storage areas. Although it is highly effective in eradicating pests such as nematodes, weeds, insects and rodents, it depletes the ozone layer and poses a danger to human health.
While alternatives exist for more than 93 percent of the applications of methyl bromide, some countries such as the U.S., Japan and Israel claimed that because of regulatory restrictions, availability, cost and local conditions, they had little choice but to continue its use as a pest control. And so despite the ban, the Montreal Protocol allows “critical use exemptions” for countries to continue to use banned substances for a short period of time until they can find a substitute.
In 2006, the United States received an exemption to use 8,000 tonnes of methyl bromide, compared to 5,000 tonnes for the rest of the developed world combined. Continue reading