Exemption Considered for Ozone-Depleting Chemical

Some countries might get a reprieve from a 2004 deadline to eliminate methyl bromide.

Some countries might be allowed limited use of methyl bromide, an ozone-depleting chemical, after a 2004 deadline set by the Montreal Protocol.

"This is the first time the issue of exemptions on methyl bromide has ever been taken up," Milton Catelin, chairman of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Montreal Protocol, said at an environmental conference in Sri Lanka yesterday.

He did not offer a timeframe for the exemptions, but said any extensions would undergo a strict review process. "An exemption will be granted only if there are no viable alternatives for a particular industry in a particular country," he stressed.

Environment ministers and government officials from over 100 countries - including the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union - have descended on Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka, to review the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting chemicals. The Montreal protocol requires that the more than 170 governments that signed the protocol phase out the use of 95 chemicals that damage the ozone layer.

Methyl bromide is used as a pesticide. It is less damaging to the ozone layer than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are generally kept in closed systems like refrigeration units. Methyl bromide is released directly into the atmosphere, thereby posing a threat.

About 70,000 tons of methyl bromide are used each year, mostly in developed countries, which have until 2004 to phase it out. Developing countries have an additional 10 years before phase out is required.

Representatives from the United States and other countries are in discussions to develop a process to review applications for exemptions.

by Sandy Smith

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