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Fact Sheet: The Montreal Protocol

Bush Administration Threatens Future of “the Most Successful Environmental Treaty”

In 1985, scientists noticed a hole in the ozone layer the size of the United States. The discovery of this hole above the Antartica spurred the development of an international agreement to protect the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol.

What is the Montreal Protocol?

The Montreal Protocol is an international agreement which was designed to regulate and phase-out the use of Ozone-Depleting Substances (ODS) including chlorine and bromine compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Methyl Bromide.

The Montreal Protocol aims to reverse past damage done to the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful, cancer causing ultraviolet radiation from the sun. According to the Scientific Assessment Panel of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is projected to recover to pre-1980 levels by the year 2050. The Montreal Protocol’s phase-out schedules have been fulfilled for several chemicals including CFCs. Developing countries have been given a grace period since developed countries are responsible for the bulk of emissions into the atmosphere.

How is the Bush Administration threatening the Montreal Protocol?

In 1997, the signatories to the Protocol agreed to a complete elimination of Methyl Bromide in developed countries by 2005, with interim reductions of 25% by 1999, 50% by 2001, and 70% by 2003. After the phase-out date, signatories would be allowed to apply for “critical use” exemptions to the ban. The Critical Use Exemption is designed to allow continued production and usage of Methyl Bromide in cases where there are no technically and economically feasible alternative.

The US has requested 9,921 tonnes of Methyl Bromide be considered ‘critical use’. The global requested critical use exemptions for Methyl Bromide total 16,917 metric tonnes. Meaning that the United States has requested more ‘critical use’ exemptions than all other countries combined. The Bush administration has threatened to ignore the treaty altogether if their ‘critical use’ demands for Methyl Bromide are not met.

Last year, The United Nations Technology and Economics Assessment Panel (TEAP) assessed the requests for ‘critical use’. Of the total 16,917 tonnes requested, TEAP is recommending that 12,901 tonnes be approved, 8,942 tonnes for the US. An approval for the US demands would cause a surge in worldwide use of Methyl Bromide. It would undermine the treaty and reverse the trend toward a cleaner, safer environment for everyone. There is the risk that other nations will follow suit with the US and that they too will fall short on their commitments made as signatories to the Montreal Protocol.

Why Methyl Bromide Hurts Us All

  • Methyl Bromide is sprayed on fields prior to planting tomatoes, strawberries and other crops.{1} It is also used in buildings and to kill pests in stored substances. It is an extremely toxic nerve-gas pesticide which is primarily used as a fumigant.

  • Methyl Bromide is a powerful ozone depletor. It is responsible for 5-10% of global ozone depletion.{2} Ozone depletion has been linked to rising rates of skin cancer, cataracts and ecosystem damage.{3}

  • The US EPA classifies Methyl Bromide as a Category I acute toxin, the most deadly classification. Methyl Bromide may damage the nervous system, lungs, kidneys, eyes, skin and possibly causes cancer.

  • Methyl Bromide causes more occupationally related deaths than any other pesticide in California which is why the United Farm Workers have demanded a ban on its use.{4}

  • Animal studies have indicated that fetuses can suffer birth defects following exposure to Methyl Bromide.{5}

Methyl Bromide Use in the United States

The US uses more Methyl Bromide than any other nation. In 1991, the US used 25,000 tonnes of Methyl Bromide, representing nearly 40% of the total amount of Methyl Bromide use globally. Nearly half of the 25,000 tonnes of Methyl Bromide used by the US in 1991 was used on only two crops – Florida tomatoes and California strawberries. In California there are 849 elementary schools within one mile of fields or greenhouses which use substantial quantities of Methyl Bromide.

Alternatives to Methyl Bromide

The United Nations Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee concluded that there are safer, healthier, non-ozone depleting alternatives for more than 90% of Methyl Bromide uses. Soil fumigation with methyl bromide has been successfully replaced by many non-chemical alternatives including cultural practices such as crop rotation, biological controls, artificial plant growth substrates, soil solarization and many more.


{1} U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Methyl Bromide Consumption Estimates,” Division of Stratospheric Protection/Methyl Bromide Program, May 1994.

{2} United Nations Environment Programme, Montreal Protocol Assessment Supplement, Synthesis Report of the Methyl Bromide Interim Scientific Assessment and Technology/Economic Assessment, June 1992.

{3} United Nations Environment Programme, Montreal Protocol Assessment Supplement, 1992, and “UV Radiation Kills Primary Food for Fish”, Richmond Times, July 1, 1994.

{4} Moses, Marion, National Farmworker Health Group Report, Pesticide Education Centre, 1986.

{5} California Department of Pesticide Regulation, Methyl Bromide (a document prepared for the Development and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee for the consideration of methyl bromide as a developmental toxicant under Proposition 65), March 7,1994.


UN Secretary General Kofi Annan praised the Montreal Protocol as, “perhaps the most successful environmental agreement to date.”

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