Protect Animals and the Ozone Layer

Ask your supermarket for fruits and vegetables grown without methyl bromide, by Danielle Grabiel

If you thought the hole in the ozone layer was a problem of the past, think again.

The bad news is the global ozone layer is currently in its most fragile state, and recovery may be decades or longer away. An ozone hole roughly the size of North America continues to develop each year over Antarctica. This past winter, the ozone layer over the Arctic thinned to record low levels and alarmed scientific experts, some of whom fear an ozone hole may develop over the northern hemisphere within the next two decades.

The good news is that with your help, we can eliminate one of the major remaining obstacles to the ozone layer's recovery—the pesticide methyl bromide. This highly toxic chemical is used to sterilize soil before planting a variety of crops, including tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucumbers and melons. It is the most powerful ozone-destroying substance still in widespread use.

All life on earth depends on the protection provided by the ozone layer. This thin layer of ozone molecules screens out nearly 99 percent of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Many of the serious health risks associated with the radiation, such as skin cancer, cataracts and suppression of the immune system, will be faced by both humans and animals.

Wild animals who are unable to protect themselves from the sun will be especially vulnerable to UV radiation increases. For aquatic animals, particularly those lacking a protective coat, increased UV radiation may severely impact their ability to survive during early stages of development.

Marine mammals are impacted indirectly by ozone depletion. Baleen whales such as the majestic humpback feed on tiny shrimp-like animals called krill, as well as a microscopic plant called phytoplankton. Both krill and phytoplankton lack protection from the most biologically damaging radiation, UV-B. Scientists have observed a direct reduction in phytoplankton production due to ozone depletion-related increases in UV-B radiation. This loss of a food source has serious implications for the entire marine food chain.

Because of methyl bromide's significant contribution to ozone depletion, countries party to the Montreal Protocol treaty agreed to phase out its use by January 2005 in developed countries and by 2015 in developing countries. However, due to heavy lobbying by agriculture special interest groups like the California Strawberry Commission and the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, millions of pounds of methyl bromide are still being used in the United States each year. These groups have pressured the US government to take advantage of a treaty loophole to allow massive commercial use of methyl bromide past the deadline.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) works at both the national and international levels to put an end to the use of methyl bromide. You can aid our efforts by asking your supermarket to sell only ozone layer-safe fruits and vegetables, grown without the use of methyl bromide. Visit the Global Environment section of our website at to send a letter to your supermarket today.

Danielle Grabiel is a campaigner for the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Photos: The ozone hole over Antarctica (shown above in dark blue) has generally grown larger and lasted longer each year, diminishing our protection from the sun. Frogs are one of many species sensitive to these increases in UV radiation. Large marine mammals are also affected because radiation harms their food sources. Methyl bromide alternatives to keep crops healthy are available, but the chemical is still in widespread use. Ozone layer/NASA