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Despite stockpile, US makes ozone-destroying pesticide

LOS ANGELES -- The United States has a large stockpile of methyl bromide, a pesticide that depletes the ozone layer, yet the Environmental Protection Agency continues to allow chemical companies to produce millions of pounds every year.

The pesticide is banned under an international treaty designed to stop the thinning of the ozone layer, which shields the planet from harmful ultraviolet radiation. But under the pact, the United States is granted annual exemptions for uses deemed critical, particularly California strawberries and Florida tomatoes.

In 2005, 28.6 million pounds were stockpiled by US chemical companies, but the Bush administration received permission from the United Nations to produce an additional 17 million pounds that year, according to newly released EPA data. That was twice as much as US farmers needed last year.

This year, the inventory dropped to almost 22 million pounds, but the EPA still allowed the production of another 15 million pounds, again totaling nearly twice as much as farmers will use.

Environmental groups say the United States is slowing the healing of the ozone layer by hoarding thousands of tons of the chemical, more than a year's supply, while convincing other UN countries that it must produce more every year.

Methyl bromide, a highly toxic gas used to sterilize soil and kill pests, is considered the most powerful ozone destroyer currently in large-scale use.

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