Daily News Archives
Days: Leavitt Signs Sharp Increase in Unhealthy Pesticide
(Beyond Pesticides, December 17, 2004) Outgoing
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Leavitt released
regulations yesterday allowing a 2 million pound increase in 2005 in
the use of methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting and cancer-causing farm
chemical, in violation of both an international treaty and the Clean
Air Act. This new action follows several other decisions by the Bush
administration to allow more use of the pesticide.
"Catering to a handful of big chemical and agribusiness interests,
the Bush administration is actually expanding the use of this dangerous,
ozone-destroying chemical," said David Doniger, policy director
of the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Climate Center. "More
methyl bromide means more ozone depletion and higher risks of skin cancer,
cataracts, and immune diseases for millions of Americans."
After a 12 year phase-out process under the treaty, known as the Montreal
Protocol, methyl bromide production and use is supposed to end at the
close of this year, with very highly restricted exemptions available
only for "critical uses." But under the new EPA regulations,
methyl bromide use will actually increase in 2005.
The EPA exemptions will allow agribusiness interests to use 19.7 million
pounds of methyl bromide next year, an increase of nearly 2 million
pounds over the amount used in 2003. More than three-quarters of the
chemical will be used by two crops -- Florida tomatoes and California
The EPA exemptions will also allow a handful of U.S. chemical companies
to produce and import 17 million pounds methyl bromide in 2005, even
though they have already stockpiled more than 22 million pounds of the
chemical. The rules violate conditions that countries use up the available
stockpile of methyl bromide before authorizing new production -- conditions
the Bush administration agreed to in Montreal Protocol talks with 180
countries just last March.
The Bush administration's move contrasts sharply with action this week
by the European Union, which is dramatically cutting methyl bromide
use across the continent, including the tomato- and strawberry-growing
regions of Italy, Spain, and other southern European countries. While
American use of this ozone-depleting chemical in 2005 will grow to 35
percent of the amount used in 1991 (when the phase-out process began),
the Europeans will cut their use to just 14 percent of their 1991 starting
point. "The United States used to be the world leader in protecting
the ozone layer, under presidents stretching back to Ronald Reagan,"
Doniger said. "Why is the Bush administration walking the other
The new exemptions follow a pattern by the Bush administration of industry-friendly
increases in methyl bromide use. This September, USDA published new
requirements that could double worldwide methyl bromide use by providing
for raw wood pallets and packaging materials to be sprayed with the
chemical, even though the government admits this will not solve the
problem of foreign pest invasions. In August, USDA proposed a separate
new system of domestic exemptions that could allow farmers to increase
use even above the levels allowed by EPA today.
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.