Methyl bromide, a pesticide, fungicide, and herbicide used primarily in the growing of strawberries, tomatoes, and bell peppers, has been found to rapidly deplete the ozone layer, and is toxic to humans and animals. Because of the harm done by methyl bromide, the Montreal Protocol Treaty–signed by the United States–to phase out its use, except in the most extreme cases, by 2005. But here it is, almost 2006, and methyl bromide use in the United States is still going strong. In fact, the Bush administration plans to protect its use at least through 2008, and will not commit to a termination date.
Growers say that substitute chemicals are not as effective, and organic methods are too expensive. In California, there have been attempts to regulate the use of methyl bromide, but these attempts do not satisfy families who live near the toxic fields. Two farmworkers reported that when they went to remove the plastic sheeting from fumigated fields, there were dead dogs, deer, and birds lying about nearby. One neighborhood in southern California sued a strawberry grower because of a flu-like illness whose onset coincided with the spraying of the fields.
The so-called Environmental Protection Agency refuses to disclose the size of the U.S.’s methly bromide inventory, but it is estimated to be 11,000 tons.