WASHINGTON, September 19 /CNW/ - It is 20 years after signing the
Montreal Protocol banning chlorofluorocarbons, and we now recognize that
completely banning methyl bromide was a mistake, explains Steve Longoria with
Aanko Technologies (http://www.aanko.com), a homeland security and
preparedness expert. "Methyl bromide has far less impact on the ozone layer
than we believed a decade ago." At the same time, he adds, "It is
environmentally safe and there is no alternative that is nearly as effective
in fumigating agricultural products."
In 1987 the international community adopted the Montreal Protocol to
prevent further depletion of the ozone layer, which protects human beings from
excessive UV radiation. At the time scientists over-estimated methyl bromide's
atmospheric life, and thus its harmful impact.
Under the Protocol's Critical Use Exemption farmers are entitled to use
methyl bromide until a reasonable and economic substitute becomes available.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has sharply restricted use of the
chemical, limiting both its application and the quantity available.
According to Longoria, methyl bromide is "essential as fumigant," killing
bacteria and fungi. This "helps guarantee an adequate supply of food at
reasonable cost." Eliminating methyl bromide would both decrease the available
supply of fruits and vegetables, but the loss of methyl bromide would also
result in higher losses post harvest in both fresh fruits and vegetables, as
well as grains, and dried fruits and nuts. Farmers would lose export markets
as well as domestic sales, since the chemical is used to protect the
commodities in transit as well as processing and warehousing.
Methyl bromide also is essential at a time when we must worry about
bioterrorism. The chemical kills Anthrax spores, meaning it would play a
critical role if the U.S. ever suffers a large-scale Anthrax attack.
Industry and government have spent nearly $200 million dollars to develop
an alternative fumigant, without success. Without methyl bromide, crop yields
will drop and crop losses will mount.
This is not just a problem in wealthy nations like America. The socialist
government of Zimbabwe has complained about the harmful impact of eliminating
use of the chemical.
Ironically, man-made supplies account for just one-fourth of the total
natural production of methyl bromide, which is released in marshes and oceans.
Thus, even eliminating human sources would have only a small impact on total
The United Nations is hosting an anniversary celebration for the Protocol
this week in Montreal. Instead of toasting their handiwork thus far, the UN
delegates should reconsider their approach to methyl bromide. The continued
use of the product at 2004 levels poses no real harm to the ozone layer. In
the meantime, some farmers are protesting having to use an alternative that
has a carcinogen warning as part of the label.
As Longoria concludes, "it is important to protect the environment. But
people are part of the environment." The rules of the critical use exemption,
as written in the Protocol should be followed. This would allow continued use
of methyl bromide.
You can reach Steve Longoria at email@example.com.
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