Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts, health tips, promotions to support our work and more from EWG. You can opt-out at any time. [Privacy]

 

Health Effects of Methyl Bromide

Heavy Methyl Bromide Use Near California Schools: Health Effects of Methyl Bromide

February 8, 1996

Methyl bromide is classified by the EPA as a Category I acute toxin, the most potent class of toxic chemicals. It is a colorless, odorless, and deadly gas, and because it is applied as a gas, it naturally drifts off site into the surrounding community. The acute effects of methyl bromide exposure include headaches, drowsiness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred vision, twitching and convulsions, seizures, psychosis and death. More disturbing, these effects may persist long after a single poisoning incident (CEPA 1994, HESIS 1990, Brodberg et al. 1992). The known effects of repeated sub-lethal exposure include damage to the brain, the peripheral nervous system, the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin. Methyl bromide is also a "direct acting mutagen" that is toxic to DNA (CEPA 1994). And methyl bromide causes "treatment related", "biologically significant", developmental (birth) defects including absence of gall bladders, fused sternebrae (spine), and decreased fetal weight (CEPA 1994). Eighteen people have died from methyl bromide exposure in California since 1985. Hundreds more have been sickened or poisoned and evacuated from schools and homes due to methyl bromide exposure during that same time period (Pease 1995).

On top of all this, methyl bromide is a powerful destroyer of the earth's protective stratospheric ozone layer. An international assessment of methyl bromide by 200 of the worlds leading atmospheric scientists rated methyl bromide 50 times more damaging to the stratospheric ozone layer than CFCs (UNEP 1995, EPA 1995). Scientists believe the gas is responsible for at least 10% of present and predictable future ozone depletion as the ozone layer continues its steady decline (WMO 1994). Damage to the ozone layer causes hundreds of thousands of cases of cataract induced blindness and non-melanoma skin cancer each year, as well as immune suppression and disruption of global ecosystems (UNEP 1992, Kripke 1995).

The United States is the largest consumer of methyl bromide by far, using 40% of global production annually, or at least 60 million pounds per year. California and Florida are the largest user states (USDA 1993, EPA 1994, UNEP 1995).