The methyl bromide issue is complex and on-going. Laws and expectations are in place to control emissions of methyl bromide and yet fumigators are able to avoid these controls with claims of financial disruption to their businesses and extensive air monitoring programs that do not address the core issues. With some exceptions, they show no inclination to apply emissions controls.
There are many websites and press announcements from numerous agricultural articles that depict that methyl bromide is phased out or is being phased out.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines 'phase out" as:
to discontinue the practice, production, or use of by phases
Allowing for an exemption to the 'phase out' means it was never intended to be 'phased out'.
Note the following:
Methyl Bromide has not been phased out
Methyl Bromide will not be phased out
The intention of the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act was NEVER to completely phase out the use of methyl bromide for fumigation operations.
This is because there is a major distinction for methyl bromide use for soil fumigation that is being sharply curtailed and may even go to zero and the use of methyl bromide for imports and exports termed Q/PS (Quarantine and Pre-shipment) that is not being phased out.
The EPA website confirms a permanent exemption to using methyl bromide for Q/PS applications.
The reason for this is at the meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol in Cairo in 1998 it was decided that use of methyl bromide for Q/PS (Quarantine and Pre-shipment) would be permanently exempted from phase out and its use in the context of imports and exports would go on indefinitely. Prior to that time, the US EPA had hoped an alternative to methyl bromide would be forthcoming. In spite of 20 years of research reported at the MBAO meetings sponsored by the USDA and the US EPA, this has not come to pass. Data obtained from the United Nations Ozone Secretariat website shows that worldwide use and thus emissions of methyl bromide for Q/PS in 2014 is 24 million lbs of which the US contributes 40% or roughly 10 million lbs. (See charts)
If you would like a complete breakdown by country and year for methyl bromide production and consumption derived from the ozone secretariat database please make your request to email@example.com.
Added to this mix is the general public who is unaware that many USDA regulated imports and exports are fumigated with methyl bromide at the nations ports and all of these uses result in direct emissions of methyl bromide to the atmosphere.
Clean Air Act, Source Categories and Methyl Bromide
The Clean Air Act is constructed so that regulation of pollution and emissions is defined in terms of source categories so that industrial sectors, by category, are treated fairly and consistently. Thus NOx (nitrous oxides) emissions from cars are not treated the same as NOx emissions from chemical plants even though the pollutant is the same. Methyl Bromide is listed as a hazadous air pollutant (HAP) under section 112(b) of the Clean Air Act. Also, if a source emits more than 10 tons per year of methyl bromide (or any other HAP) that source is considered to be major source. Section 112(c)1 states that all major sources of HAPs will be listed in source categories. Curiously, the EPA decided NOT to list fumigation as a source category. They followed the erroneous assumption that methyl bromide would be phased out, replaced or that no one would notice or care. In addition, they assumed that emissions controls would be "uneconomical". For these reasons, fumigation facilities across the United States are able to exploit this loophole and vent methyl bromide directly to the atmosphere without emissions controls - to the tune of 10 million lbs/yr in the US (see the Quarantine and Preshipment ). (New facilities, in general, must evaluate emissions controls hence our two major commercial installations in California and Florida. These entities are profitable and hence are 'economical' proving the basic assumption of not requiring emissions controls to be false since both of these facilities demonstrate 'technical and economic feasibility'). That means that 10 million lbs/yr of methyl bromide in the US alone is needlessly vented directly into the atmosphere. We feel this is a major shortcoming in the implementation of the Clean Air Act.
An Ozone Depleter and Highly Toxic
The substantially decreased use for methyl bromide was accomplished as a result of the Montreal Protocol's charter to save the upper atmosphere ozone layer that protects us from UV rays from the sun that cause skin cancer. Recent indications are that the ozone layer is healing itself due to the efforts of the Protocol. The continued decrease of the size of the hole, due to elimination of CFC refrigerants and methyl bromide can help attain the goal of eliminating the hole in the latter part of this century. Regardless though, the high toxicity of methyl bromide remains and its emissions need to be subject to control for both its ozone depletion potential and its direct harm to human health.
Support from the National Association of Clean Air Agencies
Recognizing that the uneven appliation by various states of the intent of the Clean Air Act has provided loopholes to the fumigation industry to continue to vent methyl bromide, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a consortia of over 40 state and other air polluiton agencies, wrote a letter the US EPA on March 21, 2016 to request that fumigation be formally listed as a major source of Hazardous Air Pollutants as called for in the Clean Air Act. If the EPA should follow this recommendation, then every methyl bromide fumigation air permit in the United States that comes up for renewal would require the evalution of emissions controls under the MACT (Maxiumum Achievalbe Control Technology) rules. This would force the fumigators to prove that emissions controls did not apply to them (which they have been unable to do with permit applications that were rejected Virginia, Georgia and New Jersey) and begin shutting this loophole and keep millions of pounds of methyl bromide from reaching the atmosphere.