Jump to main content.



June 10, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you on methyl bromide and on EPA's efforts to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. As you know, Mr. Chairman, this protective layer is essential to life on this planet, shielding us from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Starting in 1977 when Nobel prize-winning American scientists first discovered the link between chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) emissions into the atmosphere and depletion of the earth's ozone layer, the United States Congress, industry, researchers, policy makers, and consumers have led the way in worldwide commitment and action. Since the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, over 160 countries have joined efforts to simultaneously phase out ozone depleting substances while finding effective and safe alternatives used in a wide array of applications such as refrigeration, air conditioning, aerosols, metal and electronics cleaning, foam blowing, and fire suppression. We have made tremendous progress, as evidenced by recent measurements of worldwide declines in atmospheric chlorine concentrations.

Nevertheless, remaining challenges are enormous. World ozone layer recovery hinges on global compliance with the Montreal Protocol as currently drafted and the international community continues to work to achieve global reductions in remaining uses. Recent scientific data from satellites and balloons highlighted unusually low ozone levels in the Arctic, following a pattern previously only seen at the Antarctic ozone hole. The National Cancer Institute recently reported that while incidence of all other cancers have declined, the rate of malignant skin cancer in the U.S. continues to increase. Scientific findings like these underscore the importance of continued vigilance if we are to be successful.

You have asked me here today to address the methyl bromide phaseout. Methyl bromide is one of the most commonly used pesticides in the United States and for the past 40 years has been used by American farmers and associated industries for soil fumigation, postharvest treatment of perishables and nonperishables at storage facilities, and quarantine purposes. Given these diverse applications, we understand concerns within the agricultural community about an eventual methyl bromide phaseout. Indeed, similar concerns were expressed by users of CFCs and other ozone depleters prior to finding acceptable alternatives allowing for their successful phaseout. In the majority of those cases, we have already achieved the successful replacement of these substances thanks to industry leadership and public-private collaboration.

EPA's efforts on methyl bromide have been taken through a number of avenues. We have worked with USDA, research institutions, extension agents, and growers around the country to find and develop alternatives to methyl bromide. We have supported efforts to move alternatives out of the laboratory and onto the farm, where target pests must be effectively controlled. While there is no one alternative for all of its many uses, today there are numerous innovative chemical and non-chemical strategies and tools that effectively control many of the pests for which methyl bromide is used either available now or at an advanced stage of development. The Agency's assistance program has allocated small grants for on-farm studies to strawberry and tomato growers, the nursery and forestry industries, and tree fruit growers. In addition, the Agency has developed an extensive outreach program to inform the agricultural community about available alternatives. We strongly support the $16.6 million for research in the FY 99 budget on methyl bromide alternatives that the President has proposed in USDA's Agriculture Research Service. We will continue to focus our efforts to ensure that safe and effective substitutes for methyl bromide are developed as expeditiously as possible.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), EPA also regulates methyl bromide due to its direct effects on public health and the environment. In addition to its damaging effects on stratospheric ozone, methyl bromide is classified by the Agency as a Toxicity Category I pesticide on a scale of I - IV, with I being most acutely toxic for short-term, acute health effects. It is an acute neurotoxin, and even in relatively small doses can kill, or irreversibly damage major organs, like the liver and kidneys. As a result, methyl bromide is controlled as a restricted use pesticide, to be used only by trained and certified applicators or persons under their direct supervision. Additionally, personal protective equipment and other use precautions are required. Data have recently been submitted to EPA in support of requests for reregistration of this pesticide under the 1988 amendments to FIFRA.

Methyl bromide is regulated under the Clean Air Act because of its ozone depleting potential. On a molecule per molecule basis, bromine from methyl bromide is 40-50 times more destructive to stratospheric ozone than chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons. Based on a new understanding of how bromine affects stratospheric ozone, the 1994 international science assessment under the Montreal Protocol identified methyl bromide as a powerful ozone depleting substance and a global production phaseout was agreed upon. Industrialized countries have agreed to a phaseout by 2005 while developing countries must phaseout methyl bromide by 2015.

Obviously, the current Clean Air Act deadline of 2001 binds us to a more aggressive timetable, which presents a disparity with other industrialized countries under the Montreal Protocol. This Administration has consistently expressed a willingness to consider targeted legislative changes if we approach the 2001 methyl bromide phaseout date and find that alternatives do not exist for control of key pests. However, we oppose proposals that would more broadly open the Clean Air Act or put the United States out of compliance with the Montreal Protocol.

The dilemma we face with methyl bromide is one that we have faced before and solved before -- a popular and effective pesticide that unfortunately has serious human health and environmental risks that we must address. Through laws such as FIFRA and the Food Quality Protection Act, Congress has spearheaded efforts to solve such problems while still guaranteeing a safe and plentiful food supply. Federal agencies including FDA, USDA, and EPA have had tremendous success in ensuring food safety while providing farmers opportunities for sustained yields and healthy conditions. We must continue working to find and promote effective alternatives to methyl bromide, and other ozone-depleting substances, otherwise the world community will not be able to stop damage to the ozone layer and reduce the risk of skin cancers and other health effects for future generations.

We remain committed to complying with our domestic and international obligations to protect public health and the environment. We look forward to working with Congress and all involved parties to protect the interests of American farmers while meeting these obligations.

Thank you for your attention. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

About OCIR | Office of the Administrator
Thomas - Legislative Information [Exit EPA] | US State and Local Gateway [Exit EPA]

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.