At the 18th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in New Delhi, India, last week, the United States was authorized 91 percent of its request for critical use allocations of the ozone-depleting soil fumigant methyl bromide for the year 2008.

As inventories of ozone-damaging methyl bromide continue to decline, critical use exemptions help meet the needs of American farmers as they transition to ozone-safe alternatives.

The amount authorized at the New Delhi meeting represents 21 percent of the nation's 1991 baseline consumption (U.S. baseline is 25,528 metric tons). Some 18 percent of baseline (4,595 metric tons) will be authorized new production and import, and the remainder will come from pre-phaseout inventories. EPA will allocate these quantities to users with critical needs through the notice-and-comment rulemaking process.

As methyl bromide alternatives have been adopted and uses scaled back, the quantity of the critical use exemption in the United States has decreased steadily -- the authorizations have decreased from 9,553 metric tons for 2005 to 8,082 metric tons for 2006 and 6,749 metric tons for 2007. The authorization for 2008 continues the downward trend.

The level of pre-phaseout inventory has also continued to decrease -- from approximately 16,422 metric tons in 2003 to 12,994 metric tons in 2004 and 9,975 metric tons last year. The United States has substantially reduced methyl bromide consumption since the early 1990s, and is committed to further reductions of methyl bromide use as alternatives become available.

The critical use exemption process was established to provide relief to methyl bromide users who do not yet have any technically or economically feasible alternatives. Under the current structure of the Protocol, the Parties to the treaty authorize exemptions on an annual basis, and each year EPA promulgates a rule to allocate methyl bromide for critical uses. Methyl bromide allocations are regulated and monitored by EPA.

Methyl bromide is used to fumigate soil before planting crops such as strawberries and tomatoes, as well as to fumigate stored commodities and grain mills. However, it also damages the ozone layer and is classified as a Class I ozone-depleting substance. EPA regulations phased out the production and import of methyl bromide as of Jan. 1, 2005, except for allowable exemptions, such as the critical use exemption.

General information from the EPA about the phaseout of methyl bromide is online.

SOURCE: EPA news release.