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Regulatory Double Standard in California

Heavy Methyl Bromide Use Near California Schools: Regulatory Double Standard in California

February 8, 1996

In California, people living near methyl bromide fumigation facilities receive far more protection from methyl bromide emissions than people living near farm fields that are also treated with methyl bromide. Fumigation facilities are regulated as point sources of methyl bromide emissions under the California Air Toxic Hot Spot Information and Assessment Act of 1987. Use of the same chemical in the same amounts on agricultural fields, in contrast, is barely regulated at all.

Standard setting under the Toxic Hot Spot Act has revealed some important insights to the risks faced by communities in close proximity to heavy methyl bromide applications. The case involving the San Diego Unified Port Districts Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal Methyl Bromide Fumigation Facility illustrates the point.

Historically, the Port facility was permitted to apply a maximum of 40,000 pounds of methyl bromide per year. In 1993, the risk from methyl bromide emissions at the port were assessed by the state of California. Assessments were made using EPA and state approved air dispersion models, focussing on two schools -- one about one mile away, the other about two miles away (SDRA 1993).

The risks for both schools exceeded acceptable levels set by the EPA and the state of California. More notably, the school farther away was at greater riskfrom methyl bromide emissions than the school that was closer to the facility. As a result of this risk assessment, the fumigation facility is installing methyl bromide recapture equipment and is taking other measures to mitigate methyl bromide emissions. There are no similar calculations or remedies made for agricultural applications even though hundreds of elementary schools across the state are within two miles of as much or more methyl bromide use as that permitted at the San Diego port fumigation facility.