Vegetable growers rely on ozone-depleting gas

I saw this article in the local newspaper.

Link: Vegetable growers rely on ozone-depleting gas | ajc.com.

Vegetable growers rely on ozone-depleting gas

By CHARLES SEABROOK, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 02/14/05

To prepare his table-flat fields near Valdosta for spring planting, vegetable grower Kevin Coggins injects a colorless, odorless gas into the plowed ground to kill weeds, insects and disease-causing fungi.

The potent gas is methyl bromide, a staple of Georgia’s $680 million vegetable growing industry.

"It works better by far than any other pesticide at keeping vegetables looking good and crop yields high," says Coggins, who plants 8,500 acres of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other crops near the Georgia-Florida line.

But methyl bromide has become the most controversial farm chemical since DDT was banned 33 years ago. Without it, Coggins says, he and other farmers are certain to suffer huge financial losses that will likely put them out of business.

Fields like Coggins’ have become ground zero in an international battle over the pesticide, which was technically banned Jan. 1 under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, the international agreement to protect the Earth’s high-in-the-sky ozone layer. Scientists say the chemical depletes the layer, which shields Earth from dangerous ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer, cataracts and other human maladies.

Under a controversial exemption, Georgia farmers and others around the country can keep using methyl bromide this year for squash, cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, pepper, tomato and strawberry crops.

Environmental groups, however, are challenging the exemption. Methyl bromide is the most powerful ozone-depleting chemical still in use, they say. It also has been linked to prostate cancer in farm workers and to neurological problems in people who are exposed to large quantities of it.

What about consumers of the vegetables?

What about the health of the soil after this treatment? For example, earthworms are key to healthy soil — what does methyl bromide do to earthworms and other essential organisms?