June 15, 1998
50 Environmental, Labor Groups Urge U.S. Congress to Ban
On June 10, the U.S. House of Representatives' Agriculture
Committee held a hearing on the deadly, ozone depleting
pesticide methyl bromide. But critics charge that the hearing
was biased and the Agriculture Committee prevented farmers,
environmentalists and labor leaders who oppose this pesticide
from testifying at the session.
"The American people need an impartial assessment of this
hazardous pesticide, but they didn't get it at this hearing,"
said Anne Schonfield, Program Coordinator with Pesticide
Action Network. "Unfortunately, Congress won't give equal
time to communities harmed by methyl bromide or to farmers
using alternative methods."
The U.S. is scheduled to ban methyl bromide in January 2001
under the federal Clean Air Act. However, five of the six
experts who testified at the congressional hearing oppose
this ban and support continued use of the fumigant. Also at
the hearing, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
spokesperson Paul Stolpman stated that the Clinton
Administration has "consistently expressed a willingness to
consider targeted legislative changes" to postpone the ban on
During the hearing, environmental, labor and community
organizations delivered a letter to the Agriculture Committee
urging Congress to maintain the 2001 ban of methyl bromide.
The letter was signed by 50 organizations from across the
U.S., including the Sierra Club, United Farm Workers/AFL-CIO,
Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Natural
Resources Defense Council. The letter stated that "This
pesticide continues to cause illness and poisonings in
farmworkers and residents near fumigated fields...By
postponing the U.S. phaseout, communities across the country
will be exposed to this dangerous pesticide." It pointed out
that a recent report by the Environmental Working Group
concluded that in 1995 more than 73,000 California children
attended schools within 1.5 miles of fields treated with
10,000 pounds or more of methyl bromide.
The letter also stated that research and demonstration trials
have shown that many environmentally friendly alternatives to
methyl bromide exist and are already in use. Farmers,
however, will have far less reason to switch to these
approaches if legislation delays the ban. The groups called
for Congress to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture
and the EPA to help U.S. farmers meet this critical deadline
and transition to sustainable alternatives to methyl bromide
-- rather than postponing the ban.
Methyl bromide, a pesticide used across the U.S. to grow
strawberries, tomatoes and other crops, is directly toxic to
people and also depletes the Earth's protective ozone layer.
EPA classifies methyl bromide as a Category I acute toxin,
the most deadly category of substances. From 1982 to 1993,
454 cases of methyl bromide poisoning were reported to
California physicians and thousands of residents were
evacuated because of accidents with the pesticide. In
September 1997, 163 countries agreed to phase out methyl
bromide under the Montreal Protocol treaty because of the
pesticide's contribution to ozone depletion. Scientists have
identified viable alternatives for more than 90% of methyl
Source: PANNA/Friends of the Earth press release, June 9,
1998. Testimony of Paul Stolpman, Hearing of the Subcommittee
on Forestry, Resource Conservation and Research, June 10,
Contact: PANNA (see below).
Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave, NW, #300, Washington
DC 20005; phone (202) 783-7400; fax (202) 783-0444; email
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
116 New Montgomery, #810, San Francisco, CA 94105
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