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That Ozone Hole

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Choosing Golf Course Pesticide And Solar Death


By James Donahue


Everybody knows there is an alarming hole in the Earth's ozone layer that exposes Antarctica and the southern areas of the world to solar radiation during certain times of the year.


A lot of people also know that world leaders were so alarmed about the speed at which the ozone over the planet was being depleted, they made an international pact in 1987 to ban products containing the two main chemicals found to be causing the problem . . . chloride and bromine compounds . . . from world markets.


Since that date, industrial leaders all over the world have been complying with the terms of the pact, called the Montreal Protocol, and scientists have been expressing hope that the damage to the ozone layer can be halted before it gets so thin our planet will be too radiated to support life.


This and the second major world effort to stop global warming via the Kyoto Protocol, hammered out in Japan just before George W. Bush took office, were both hopeful signs. It was the first two times the major world powers were willing to act collectively to take drastic measures to save the planet from total ruin.


Bush changed everything.


He not only snubbed the Kyoto Protocol, he is making a major effort this year to allow American farmers and industries to dodge the rules of the Montreal Protocol. The government wants to allow the continued use of methyl bromide, a pesticide used for fumigating stored grain bins and treating golf course sod.


If someone has counted the number of farm granaries and golf courses around the country lately, he or she would know that it would take a lot of methyl bromide to keep the bugs out of all of them.


Methyl bromide, a toxic poisonous gas, remains the greatest attacker of ozone left in the industrialized part of the world. That is because of its qualities as a bug killer work effectively in buildings, thick patches of plants and other hard-to-get-at places. Other pesticides are available that do not harm the ozone, but the application is more difficult.


Farmers like to inject the gas into the soil before planting because it wipes out everything alive, including earthworms and other earth-friendly insects. But they say it leaves no toxic residue in the soil. Instead, the gas escapes from the soil and rises into the atmosphere, eventually attacking the ozone layer.


The United States is responsible for a quarter of the world's consumption of methyl bromide. The stuff is so toxic, it is deadly when humans come in contact with it. And the chemical also has been linked to prostate cancers in farmers.


If Bush gets his way, his administration is going to snub the Montreal Protocol, just as it did the Kyoto Protocol. We can then watch the southern hole in the ozone layer get wider and wider until the protective covering disappears from our planet altogether.


Not only is the U.S. government demanding the right to continue using methyl bromide to treat golf courses, it also wants to exploit a loophole in the treaty that would allow the use of the gas to treat wood packaging. Instead of phasing out the use of the poison, American industry might actually increase production and use.


An international conference in Nairobi will consider the U.S. demands for protocol exemptions in the fall. If successful, environmental groups fear the treaty will start to fall apart.


 "The US is reneging on the agreement, and working very, very hard to get other countries to agree," said David Doniger, former government official and now with the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Dr. Joe Farman, the Cambridge scientist that discovered the Antarctic ozone hole, was quoted in one British newspaper: "This is madness. We do not need this chemical. We do need the ozone layer. How stupid can people be?"


When you think about the millions of years it took for that ozone to build up there in the stratosphere, and the millions of years more it will take for it to be replaced, letting Mr. Bush and pals get away with this is a serious crime.


In the interest of money, they could be sounding a death knell for the entire human race and it might be coming down on us sooner than anybody might image.

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