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Backgrounder Paper for Methyl Bromide

What is it?

At room temperature and pressure methyl bromide is a colourless gas that is heavier than air. Except at high concentrations, it is also odourless. It is commercially available as a liquefied gas (under pressure) and is stored/transported in steel cylinders.

It is toxic by inhalation and has potent insecticidal, fungicidal and herbicidal properties.

What does it do?

Products containing methyl bromide have been registered in Australia as a fumigant since 1945. Methyl bromide has been used as a soil fumigant in horticultural industries, as a pest control treatment on dry commodities such as stored grain and dried fruit, as well as a quarantine and pre-shipment (QPS) fumigant for imports, exports and certain commodities transported interstate, and as an industrial feedstock in the production of other chemicals. Methyl bromide products may contain 2% chloropicrin (tear gas) or amyl acetate (banana oil, pear oil) as odorants to warn of exposure.

What are our concerns?
The APVMA has a program for reconsidering (reviewing) the registration of chemicals currently available on the market. Reviews are undertaken when there is new information that raises potential concerns about a chemical’s on-going use, suggesting that its registration should be reassessed.
Methyl bromide is a potent ozone-depleting substance. Therefore the registration of methyl bromide products is being reconsidered because current labels contain uses that may pose an unacceptable risk to the ozone layer.

What is the international situation with respect to methyl bromide use?

It is widely recognised that the emission of certain substances (including methyl bromide) can have adverse effects on the environment by significantly depleting the ozone layer. Thus an international control agreement, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, was negotiated and it came into force on 1st January 1989. The Protocol, which sets out a mandatory timetable for the phase-out of ozone-depleting compounds including methyl bromide, has been signed by over 180 countries including Australia.

The uses of methyl bromide for quarantine and pre-shipment purposes and as an industrial feedstock are currently exempt from phase-out under the Montreal Protocol. Otherwise, the total phase-out of methyl bromide was to have been completed by 1 January 2005. However, in recognition of the fact that some industries are having difficulty in finding alternatives to methyl bromide, signatories to the Montreal Protocol have permitted some Critical-Use Exemptions (CUEs) where no technical or economically feasible alternatives currently exist.

These are granted on a yearly basis, allowing the use of an allocated amount of methyl bromide for specified agricultural uses. The first year for CUEs was 2005. In Australia, the CUE quantity used in agriculture in 2005 was only about 20% of the total quantity used nationally in 1991 (the base-line year against which the Montreal Protocol measures national reductions in use), while for 2006 the CUE quantity granted is less than 10% of 1991 usage.

To meet the requirements of the Montreal Protocol, Australian legislation was enacted (the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 and Regulations) to ensure that methyl bromide imported into Australia is only used for CUEs, QPS purposes and as an industrial feedstock. These regulations are administered by the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH).

Why did the APVMA carry out a review of methyl bromide?

As the potential for adverse environmental effects of methyl bromide arising from its release into the atmosphere is well understood, the APVMA did not conducted a detailed scientific review of all available data. The review focused on uses, warnings and instructions on product labels, particularly in respect of the known environmental concerns with methyl bromide, and Australia’s obligations under the Montreal Protocol. No technical assessments were required in the areas of toxicology, OH&S, or residues.

Are there alternative chemicals if methyl bromide use is restricted?

As noted above, CUE arrangements in place since 2005 allow some flexibility for industries that still do not have clear alternatives to methyl bromide, although this is a diminishing option. Minimal impacts on industry are expected since methyl bromide manufacturers, importers and users are well aware of the Montreal Protocol and its implications for use of methyl bromide products. DEH has been closely involved with these sectors since 1996, when it commenced control of methyl bromide manufacture, import and export, via mandatory licensing and record keeping. Most agricultural industries have largely adapted to the expected phase-out via utilisation of alternative products and/or fumigation methods.

What action is the APVMA proposing to take?

To allow the continued registration of methyl bromide pesticide products, the following label variations are proposed:

  • product labels with general fumigation uses will be varied to delete all uses except QPS uses, and include a recommendation that methyl bromide recapture technology be used where appropriate. For example, non-QPS fumigation of buildings for rodents would not be permitted, nor would non-QPS fumigation of commodities; and
  • product labels that have both soil fumigation and general fumigation uses will have the soil fumigation uses deleted.

It is also proposed to cancel the registration of products with label uses that are solely related to soil fumigation (i.e. there are no general fumigation uses on the label).

How can interested stakeholders have an input?

The APVMA’s detailed findings are available go to - Preliminary Review Findings document.

The APVMA invites persons and organisations to submit their comments and suggestions on this Preliminary Review Findings document directly to the APVMA. Your comments will assist the APVMA in preparing the Final Review Report and Regulatory Decision.

Submissions specifically addressing the areas of concern noted in the Preliminary Review Findings document must be in writing and reach the APVMA by 4 July 2006, by email to or by mail to:

Evaluator, Methyl Bromide Review
Australian Pesticides & Veterinary Medicines Authority
PO Box 6182
For further information please contact (02) 6272 3213 or Fax (02) 6272 3218
(now 02 6210 4700)