Skip to comments.U.S. drags its feet in phasing out banned pesticide
Posted on 11/29/2005 12:13:05 AM PST by neverdem
WATSONVILLE, Calif. Shoppers browse store displays brimming with succulent tomatoes and plump strawberries, hoping to enjoy one last round of fresh fruit before the Western growing season ends. There is no hint of a dark side to the blaze of red.
But strawberries are a painful subject for Guillermo Ruiz. The farmworker believes his headaches, confusion and vision trouble stem from a decade of working in the fields with methyl bromide, a pesticide that protects the berries with stunning efficiency.
Cheri Alderman, a teacher whose classroom borders a farm, fears her students could inhale a dangerous whiff of the fumigant as it drifts from the adjacent strawberry field. "A little dribble of poison is still poison," she says.
Other nations watch as the United States keeps permitting wide use of methyl bromide for tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, Christmas trees and other crops, even though the U.S. signed an international treaty banning all but the most critical uses by 2005.
The chemical depletes the Earth's protective ozone layer and can harm the human neurological system.
Methyl bromide's survival demonstrates the difficulty of banishing a powerful pesticide that helps deliver what both farmers and consumers want: abundant, pest-free and affordable produce.
The Bush administration, at the urging of agriculture and manufacturing interests, is making plans to ensure methyl bromide remains available at least through 2008 by seeking and winning treaty exemptions.
The administration's "fervent desire and goal" is to end the use of methyl bromide, said Claudia McMurray, deputy assistant secretary of state. However, she added, "I can't say to you that each year the numbers [of pounds used] would automatically go down."
The reason is that farmers around the country are struggling to find a suitable replacement for methyl bromide. Alternative organic techniques are too costly, and substitute chemicals are not as effective, growers say.
"We're not totally clueless. We've seen this train coming. We've tried every alternative and put every engine on the track, but none of them run," said Reggie Brown, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee.
Plastic slows release
Methyl bromide is a colorless, odorless gas that usually is injected by tractor into soil before planting, then covered with plastic sheeting to slow its release into the air. It wipes out plant parasites, disease and weeds. It results in a spectacular yield, reduced weeding costs and a longer growing season.
Workers who inhale enough of the chemical can suffer convulsions, coma and neuromuscular and cognitive problems. In rare cases, they can die.
Less is known about the long-term effects of low levels of contact, said Dr. Robert Harrison, an occupational and environmental-health physician at the University of California, San Francisco.
The U.S. signed the Montreal Protocol treaty, committing to phase out methyl bromide by 2005 as part of the effort to protect the Earth's ozone layer. A provision allows for exemptions to prevent "market disruption."
The U.S. has used it to persuade treaty signers to allow U.S. farmers to continue using the chemical.
That exemption process leaves the U.S. 37 percent shy of the phaseout required by 2005, with at least 10,450 tons of methyl bromide exempted this year. While that compares with about 28,080 tons used in 1991, this year's total is higher than it was two years ago.
U.S. officials are heading to a Montreal Protocol meeting in Senegal on Dec. 7 to begin negotiations on exemptions for 2007 and are preparing requests for 2008.
That is not what the treaty envisioned, said David Doniger, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the 1990s, he worked on the protocol as director of climate change for the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Nobody expected you would use the exemptions to cancel the final step of the phaseout or even go backward," Doniger said.
Among those pushing for continued exemptions are financial heavy hitters such as the family of Floyd Gottwald, vice chairman of methyl-bromide producer Albemarle Corp. of Richmond, Va. The family gave more than $420,000 to President Bush's campaigns and to national Republican Party organizations over the past six years.
With methyl bromide probably sticking around for several years, the EPA is re-examining its health and safety standards.
The American Association of Pesticide Control Centers logged 395 reports of methyl-bromide poisonings from 1999 to 2004.
A national total remains elusive, because farmworkers often do not seek medical care.
Guillermo Ruiz and Jorge Fernandez, two California farmworkers, say they saw plenty wrong in the strawberry fields where they worked, starting with the dogs, birds and deer that lay lifeless when the workers arrived to remove plastic sheeting from fumigated fields.
"That's how we knew this was a dangerous chemical," Ruiz said.
His own symptoms added concern. "My eyes watered. I threw up. It gave me headaches," he said.
Ruiz and Fernandez say they developed nervousness and depression by the time they stopped work in 2003. They saw the plastic come loose in high winds or leak when animals punctured it.
Other workers had symptoms, they said, but kept silent because they feared for their jobs.
The two are in a disability dispute with their former employer, who denies allegations that workers were forced to remove plastic sooner than required.
Growers feel hamstrung. Despite millions of dollars spent on research, no alternative addresses all soils and pests as well as methyl bromide, they say.
"It just works so good and just does so many things so well," said Mike Miller, a strawberry grower in Salinas, Calif.
You have a link?
Does this pesticide actually destroy the ozone layer or does it destroy ozone in a lab. The two are significantly different considering that the ozone layer is definitely not hovering a few feet over the ground over Kansas.
Without sterilization, the nursery becomes an incubator and distributor of pathogens, weeds, and pests. It's as bad as a hospital with an infection problem. Banning methyl bromide for that use may induce significant environmental risks.
Sorry, I should have said,
There is one process for which banning methyl bromide may be disastrous to the enviroment: sterilizing potting soils in nurseries.
It's getting late.
5. The National Grange supports allowing the continued and appropriate use of the following farm chemicals: 2-4-D for weed control; triazines as a crop protectant; Elgetol for thinning apples; Compound 1080 for predator control; Methyl bromide for controlling insect infestations in stored commodities and any chemicals found to be effective in controlling fire ants. We further encourage the EPA to reevaluate their restrictions on certain pesticides that are used for grasshopper control so that a more effective environmental control program may be offered to farmers and ranchers.
The holes in the ozone layer, which have somehow closed up, are over the ant-artic, not over Kansas.
I wonder if this is just enviro-wienie junk science loons rearing their ugly heads again.
13. The California State Grange will do all in their power to not only oppose the possible acceleration of a phase-out of methyl bromide for developing nations but seek to extend the United States phase-out to 2010, the same as the other developed nations, and review this phase-out at this time if no acceptable alternative is found. 
My dad has been been raising strawberries for over 20 years and has done a lot of fumigation work for others with methyl bromide. He pretty much had to call it quits the fumigation business after the ban. Luckily he works another job, so he could afford to go on to bed plastic. It's the only way to go outside of methyl bromide, but it's amazingly expensive and limits the variety of strawberries you can plant.
Never heard any actual reports of methyl bromide giving people trouble, but everyone that I know who used it took a lot of precautions.
Oh well, the holes are actually still there... They're seasonal. In fact, the hole of the antarctic was only discovered about two decades ago.
Liberals claim that humans created it. I find that difficult to believe. I do agree that our actions can exacerbate the problem, but I doubt we can significantly impact what are essentially natural forces and phenomena.
"The two are in a disability dispute with their former employer ... "
METHYL BROMIDE is also used to sterilize cargo containers from overseas. Shoes, clothes, refrigerators, cars...everything. They can mix it with a chemeical to give it a "smell". It can cause problems.
There are the "sky is falling" environmentalists and the "let's drink the poison- it's good for you" folks. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. At risk of being flamed, let me say that as Conservatives, we should also be Conservationists. Just because we hold certain views on politics, it should not warp us into denial that some things are bad for the human race and the planet. Unless some of you have tickets to another planet, we should all care what happens here. And, yes I have worked on a farm and put out all manner of pesticides and nitrogens. They do amazing things for the production of crops and the visual quality of the produce(notice i didn't say taste). However, if you've ever been inadvertently sprayed by a cropduster or spray buggy, you think about the implications and long term effects on your body. Overspray of defolient killed every plant and some 150 year old oaks in my yard a couple years ago. Algae blooms from the nitrogen choke the oxygen and life out of our ponds and ruin the fishing at the lakes. No, I don't think we should ban everything and start eating wheatgrass. No, we should not stop using pesticides,nor sue their makers. We should just be aware of what is going on around us and adjust usage accordingly. Flame away.
But strawberries are a painful subject.......
"Ah, but the strawberries...
...that's where I had them, they laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, with geometric logic, that a duplicate key to the ward room icebox did exist, and I've had produced that key if they hadn't pulled the Caine out of action. I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer . . . Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory. If I've left anything out, why, just ask me specific questions and I'll be glad to answer them one by one."
Do I have a link for what?
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