WASHINGTON — EPA Administrator William K. Reilly said Thursday that the United States believes world economic powers should commit $600 million more to help developing nations phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.
The issue will be addressed by officials from almost 90 countries next week when they meet in Copenhagen to update an international accord on ozone protection.
The United States already is putting up as much as 25% of a $240-million fund for the years 1990-93 to help nations such as India, China and Brazil avoid using chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which have caused an alarming deterioration in the ozone layer.
But so far, Reilly said, other nations that pledged contributions for that period have been slow to meet their obligations.
New studies by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and others, he added, indicate that $400 million to $600 million will be needed by developing countries in the succeeding three years as they adopt technologies that require no CFC use.
Mainly used in solvents and refrigerants such as Freon, CFCs break down in the atmosphere, releasing chlorine, which breaks up ozone molecules. While ozone is a major pollutant on the Earth's surface, ozone high in the atmosphere provides a shield against ultraviolet radiation that causes skin cancer.
Besides calling for stepped-up funding, the United States will urge other industrial countries to adopt a new schedule for phasing out CFC production, advancing the deadline from the year 2000 to 1995.
It will also advocate adding methyl bromide to the list of chemicals to be banned under the 1987 Montreal Protocols, international measures that call for steps to protect the ozone layer. Reilly also said the EPA plans to declare methyl bromide a Category I ozone-depleting chemical, which will require that it be phased out by the year 2000.
Methyl bromide is believed to be the second-most-prevalent pesticide in the United States. It is used by homeowners to fight pests such as termites, farmers to kill pests in the soil, and importers to treat produce coming into the country.
Reilly's comments came shortly after environmentalists charged that the White House has been blocking agency action and called for methyl bromide production to be cut 50% immediately and phased out within five years.
A report compiled by several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth and the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, said the chemical is responsible for 5% to 10% of the Earth's ozone depletion and will account for 15% of the damage by the year 2000.
Environmentalists also charged that its use has been linked to numerous poisonings. They said data collected by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation shows that among all pesticides used in the state methyl bromide ranks No. 7 in the number of systemic poisonings, No. 2 in causes of hospitalization and No. 1 in the total number of days of hospitalization.
Anticipating charges that a ban would take a massive economic toll, the report cited alternative treatment measures that have been used successfully by such businesses as a termite control company, a winery and a grain storage business.
"Where alternatives are not currently identified," the report said, "history suggests that decisive action to control methyl bromide will create incentives for the rapid development of previously overlooked or unforeseen alternatives."
At a 1990 conference, the Bush Administration called for phasing out methyl bromide, but no action has been taken in the United States.
Last December, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and Friends of the Earth petitioned the EPA to act against the pesticide. The formal deadline for a response passed last June, and in September the three environmental groups filed suit to force the agency to regulate the pesticide under the 1990 Clean Air Act.
Negotiators at the Copenhagen conference also will consider a phaseout schedule for halons, chemicals that are used in firefighting.
Reilly said no environmental issue facing the government is considered more significant than stabilizing the Earth's ozone layer. Estimates released by the EPA last year said that ozone depletion will lead to an additional 12 million skin cancers over the next half century, with as many as 200,000 additional deaths.
By advancing the CFC phaseout from 2000 to 1995, Reilly said Thursday, the United States stands to reduce skin cancer cases by 1 million.