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Methyl Bromide Use in California
What is Methyl Bromide?
* Methyl bromide is a toxic pesticide that is injected into soil before
planting strawberries, grapes, almonds and other crops. It is also
used to kill pests in stored commodities, in agricultural shipments
and in buildings.
* Because of its ability to cause poisonings, neurological damage and
reproductive harm, EPA classifies methyl bromide as a Category I acute
toxin, the most deadly category of substances.
* Methyl bromide is also a powerful ozone depleter. A United Nations
scientific panel estimated that methyl bromide is responsible for 5
-10% of worldwide ozone depletion. Ozone depletion is linked to rising
rates of skin cancer, eye cataracts and damage to key ecosystems.
Methyl Bromide in California
* California is the second largest methyl bromide-using state in the
U.S. (after Florida). In 1993, California used nearly 15 million
pounds of methyl bromide, the vast majority for soil fumigation.
* California strawberries are one of the largest single crop users of
methyl bromide in the U.S. and around the world. In 1993, 3.5 million
pounds of methyl bromide were applied to California strawberry fields,
accounting for nearly 25% of the state's total use of this pesticide.
California strawberry growers use approximately 350 pounds of methyl
bromide per acre. Other large users of the pesticide include grapes,
almonds, ornamental/nursery plants and carrots.
Dangers to Human Health
* From 1982 to 1990, at least 18 people in California died from exposure
to methyl bromide. The state Department of Pesticide Regulation also
reports at least 148 systemic illnesses, 52 eye injuries and 60 cases
of skin damage from methyl bromide. Methyl bromide has also caused
birth defects in studies required by U.S. EPA and submitted by the
* Methyl bromide is toxic to the central nervous system and can damage
lungs and kidneys and possibly cause cancer. Direct exposure can lead
to headaches, blurred vision, nausea and dizziness. Many farmworkers
and residents near fumigated fields have experienced these symptoms.
* During the past decade, thousands of California residents have been
evacuated because of methyl bromide accidents, including 1,200 people
in Fresno in 1987 and 1,500 residents in Ceres in 1984. More recent
evacuations have occurred in Oxnard (1992) and Watsonville (1990).
Ozone Depletion and Skin Cancer
* In 1994, 226 of the world's leading atmospheric scientists issued a
report on ozone depletion, concluding that:
- Methyl bromide is a significant ozone depleter and eliminating human uses
of this pesticide is the most significant way to reduce future ozone loss;
- 1992-1993 ozone levels were the lowest ever recorded;
- The Antarctic ozone "holes" of 1992 and 1993 were the most severe on
- There is a clear link between ozone depletion and increased levels of
harmful UV radiation.
* Ozone depletion and UV radiation are directly linked to skin cancer.
In May 1995, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a report on
skin cancer with significant findings:
- The rate of death from melanoma skin cancer rose 34% from 1973 to 1992;
- Melanoma is the fastest growing killer among cancers in men (particularly
over age 50);
- 3,796 people in California died from melanoma from 1988 to 1992;
- An estimated 7,200 people died from malignant melanoma in 1995.
Safe Alternatives Exist
* In 1995, the U.N. Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee concluded
that alternatives exist, or are at an advanced stage of development
for more than 90% of methyl bromide use. The Committee, made up of 68
experts from 23 countries, identified a wide range of alternatives for
many uses of methyl bromide.
* Alternatives are already used by many California farmers and pest
control companies. In 1992, 59% of California's wine grape acres were
treated with alternatives to methyl bromide, including well-known
vineyards such as Frey and Fetzer. In 1993, the Defense Logistics
Agency (part of the U.S. Defense Department) saved $2.9 million by
using "controlled atmospheres" (instead of methyl bromide) on produce
shipped from Alameda, California, to troops and commissaries in the
* Existing non-chemical alternatives are much healthier for people, much
safer for the environment and do not deplete the ozone layer.
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), 116 New Montgomery, #810,
San Francisco, CA 94105; phone (415) 541-9140; fax (415) 541-9253; email
Methyl Bromide Briefing Kit (by gopher)
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