World must take methyl bromide ban seriously

Countries around the world must crack down further on use of ozone-harming pesticide methyl bromide, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has urged.

Executive Director of UNEP, Klaus Toepfer, stated there were “significant knowledge gaps” on worldwide usage levels of the pesticide. He added that this could have serious implications for the global effort to repair the ozone layer, which filters out harmful levels of ultraviolet rays.

Use of methyl bromide for agricultural purposes, is supposed to be phased out by the 1st January 2005, under international agreement the Montreal Protocol.

Following the outlawing of various other chemicals, including CFCs and PCBs (see related story), to help protect the ozone layer, Mr Toepfer said it was vital to add this pesticide to the banned list.

“Scientists estimate that, by the middle of the century and as a result of phasing out on numerous ozone damaging chemicals, the ozone layer could be repaired,” Mr Toepfer stated. “But this is far from guaranteed.”

Many countries have already applied for so-called critical use exemptions (see related story), so that they can continue to use the harmful chemical in 2005. They say that they cannot find a viable alternative to fumigate soil and control pests on their farms, saying that the other options are ineffective and more expensive.

Uses of the pesticide for other purposes, including the exports of commodity crops, animal fodder and cut flowers, will also be exempted from the international phase-out. According to the UN, some experts say that these exemptions and exclusion from control measures could lead to usage levels actually growing in some areas.

Mr Toepfer called on countries to back a global survey being carried out by UNEP’s Ozone Secretariat, so that governments could be better informed on the precise quantities of the pesticide being used.

By Jane Kettle

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