Use of ozone destroying methyl bromide will continue

PRAGUE, Czech Republic, November 29, 2004 (ENS): An international conference on safeguarding the ozone layer ended here Saturday with a green light for the United States and other industrialized countries to continue using methyl bromide as a pesticide and soil fumigant. The chemical destroys the Earth's protective ozone layer, and it was supposed to be phased out in 2005, but the requesting countries say there is no effective substitute.

The meeting of Parties to the Montreal Protocol was attended by over 500 participants representing 126 countries, in addition to delegates from United Nations agencies, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, scientists, and representatives from industry and agriculture.

The governments agreed to exemptions for developed world growers totaling just over 2,600 tons of methyl bromide for 2005 in addition to just over 12,150 tons agreed to at a special meeting in March this year.

Based on recommendations by the scientific and technical panels to the Protocol, governments agreed to grant farmers in industrialized countries a total of just over 11,700 tons worth of exemptions in 2006.

A further 3,000 tons worth of exemptions were also provisionally approved for 2006 and they will be reviewed by the scientific and technical experts over the coming months.

The experts will report back to governments as to whether these 3,000 tons should be formally granted or whether reliable, ozone friendly alternatives exist. This will be debated at a special one day meeting or Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties scheduled for late June or early July next year.

Governments agreed that the levels of exemptions granted should take into account existing stockpiles of unused or recycled methyl bromide.

In a statement issued at the close of the meeting, the U.S. State Department said the exemptions will provide "a much needed degree of certainty for the agricultural groups that rely on methyl bromide because technically and economically feasible alternatives are not yet available." The chemical is used on some 100 U.S. crops.

The Netherlands, on behalf of the European Union, expressed concern at the large amount of critical use exemptions requested for methyl bromide, and called for a decrease in use of the chemical.

In Prague, Claudia McMurray, deputy assistant secretary for Environment Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, U.S. State Department, said the United States has phased out over 95 percent of its consumption of ozone depleting substances since the protocol took effect in 1989. "The total amount of our 2006 methyl bromide request corresponds to only about 1.5 percent of our overall use of ozone depleting substances in 1989," she said.

Under an agreement made in the mid-1990s, the chemical is scheduled for a full phase out in developed world agriculture next year. In 1991 consumption of methyl bromide was around 63,800 metric tons.

But some farmers in Australia, Europe and the United States claim that the current alternatives to methyl bromide in some places and for certain crops such as strawberries and tomatoes, are not sufficiently effective. They have requested exemptions from the deadline for 2005 and 2006.

Klaus Toepfer, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which hosts the Ozone Secretariat at its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, said, " I am delighted that governments could agree on such as range of sometimes difficult issues. I am also delighted that their decisions were based on sound science."

Alternatives to the ozone depleter are emerging. On November 2, Arysta LifeScience Corporation received registration for Iodomethane for insect control on imported timber in Japan, the world's first registration of Iodomethane.

The chemical has been developed by the Methyl Bromide Alternative Urgent Development Program supported by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Iodomethane's Japanese registration is the result of a collaboration involving the Japan Fumigation Technology Association and Yokohama Plant Protection Station.

While the target crop of this registration is imported timber, Arysta also has been developing Iodomethane as a soil fumigant for control of nematodes, weeds and fungi in crops such as strawberries, tomatoes and peppers and melons. Non-food crop production such as turf and cut flowers as well as orchard and vine crops are also Iodomethane candidates.

The company said it will soon seek approvals for the chemical as a methyl bromide replacement in North America, Europe, Central and South America and the Middle East.

In Prague, governments agreed to a global survey of the amounts of methyl bromide used in quarantine and pre-shipment applications. The survey will be carried out by scientific and technical experts to the Montreal Protocol.

Quantities used by farmers for fumigating soils is well known, but the precise levels used to treat shipments of large commodity crops such as rice and cornand consignments in wooden pallets is unknown.

Experts estimate that in 2002 the quantities were around 11,000 metric tons increasing to 18,000 tons in 2004. But these estimates may be too low because not all countries are supplyingaccurate figures on the precise levels being used. The survey is aimed at resolving these uncertainties and may be a first step towards controlling the levels of methyl bromide used in quarantine and pre-shipment.

The intention to end methyl bromide use a some time in the near future was evident at the meeting, said the UNEP chief. "Throughout our discussions all governments stated clearly that they had every intention to phase out methyl bromide and that these critical use exemptions are temporary measures," Toepfer said.

The meeting also granted essential use exemptions for ozone depleting chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs) used in metered dose inhalers to treat respiratory illnesses. Under the agreements, the United States has been granted 1,900 tons of CFCs and Europe several hundred tons for use in inhalers containing the chemical salbutamol.

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