Health and Safety Alert- A look at pesticide Methyl Bromide


Recently making the news for the suspected poisoning and exposure of a family while on vacation in the US Virgin Islands. The pesticide allegedly was sprayed in an apartment below them to fix a bug problem the same day the family arrived at their vacation rental condominium unit at the Sirenusa resort on St. John, according to Judith Enck, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 2 Office, which covers the U.S. Virgin Islands. By that night, Enck said, the entire family “started having adverse health effects.” Both boys had seizures, according to Enck. Paramedics responded and took the family to a hospital on neighboring island St. Thomas. Three of the family members were put on ventilators, Enck said. The family was then airlifted to hospitals in the U.S.

What is methyl bromide?

Methyl bromide is a broad spectrum pesticide used in the control of pest insects, nematodes, weeds, pathogens, and rodents. In the U.S., methyl bromide is used in agriculture, primarily for soil fumigation, as well as for commodity and quarantine treatment, and structural fumigation. Methyl bromide is a potent neurotoxin that affects the nervous system. The EPA banned methyl bromide for indoor residential use in the 1980s, Enck said, but the product still is on the market for agricultural use.

It’s commonly used in California on strawberries, Enck said. “Decades ago, we established rules saying that pesticide applicators cannot use this toxic pesticide indoors because we were afraid of an outcome just like this one,” Enck said. Enck said it’s important to educate the public about alternatives to very toxic pesticides. “There’s something called integrated pest management where you can look at lesser toxic or non-toxic ways to deal with bug problems,” she said.

Why is methyl bromide dangerous?

According to the EPA, methyl bromide exposure can cause short-term and long-term problems including severe lung injuries and neurological impairment. “Exposure to methyl bromide is quite serious,” Enck said, “And it can really damage your nervous system.” Exposure can cause brain damage and comas, Enck added. “There are a number of serious health impacts that anyone applying this would know about once they looked at the label on the product and then looked at the supporting documentation that talked about health impacts,” she said. The EPA issued a pesticide warning in the Caribbean and is examining if methyl bromide was used in other locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Some vacationers or residents may not have had the very serious health response that this family has had, but it can cause headache, nausea, dizziness; it can affect whether your body shakes or not,” Enck said.

What are some products that contain methyl bromide?

• Brom-O-Gas®

• M B C

• M-B-R

• Meth-O-Gas®

• Terr-O-Gas®

• Other products not listed here

Route of Exposure Symptoms First Aid
Inhalation Abdominal pain. Convulsions. Dizziness. Headache. Laboured breathing. Vomiting. Weakness. Hallucinations. Loss of speech. Incoordination. Fresh air rest. Half-upright position. Artificial respiration if indicated. Refer for medical attention.
Skin Tingling. Itching. MAY BE ABSORBED! Redness. Burning sensation. Pain. Blisters. (Further see Inhalation). ON CONTACT WITH LIQUID: FROSTBITE. ON FROSTBITE: rinse with plenty of water do NOT remove clothes. Rinse skin with plenty of water or shower. Refer for medical attention.
Eyes Redness. Pain. Blurred vision. Temporary loss of vision. First rinse with plenty of water for several minutes (remove contact lenses if easily possible) then take to a doctor.
Methyl bromide
Synonyms & Trade NamesBromomethane, Monobromomethane
CAS No.74-83-9 RTECS No.PA4900000 DOT ID & Guide1062 123
FormulaCH3Br Conversion1 ppm = 3.89 mg/m3 IDLHCa [250 ppm]
See: 74839
Exposure LimitsNIOSH REL: Ca See Appendix AOSHA PEL

: C 20 ppm (80 mg/m3) [skin]

Measurement MethodsNIOSH 2520 ;
See: NMAM or OSHA Methods
Physical DescriptionColorless gas with a chloroform-like odor at high concentrations. [Note: A liquid below 38°F. Shipped as a liquefied compressed gas.]
MW:95.0 BP:38°F FRZ:-137°F Sol:2% VP:1.9 atm IP:10.54 eV
Sp.Gr:1.73 (Liquid at 32°F) Fl.P:NA (Gas) UEL:16.0% LEL:10% RGasD:3.36
Flammable Gas, but only in presence of a high energy ignition source.
Incompatibilities & ReactivitiesAluminum, magnesium, strong oxidizers [Note: Attacks aluminum to form aluminum trimethyl, which is SPONTANEOUSLY flammable.]
Exposure Routesinhalation, skin absorption (liquid), skin and/or eye contact (liquid)
Symptomsirritation eyes, skin, respiratory system; muscle weak, incoordination, visual disturbance, dizziness; nausea, vomiting, headache; malaise (vague feeling of discomfort); hand tremor; convulsions; dyspnea (breathing difficulty); skin vesiculation; liquid: frostbite; [potential occupational carcinogen]
Target OrgansEyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system
Cancer Site[in animals: lung, kidney & forestomach tumors]
Personal Protection/Sanitation(See protection codes)
Skin: Prevent skin contact (liquid)
Eyes: Prevent eye contact (liquid)
Wash skin: When contaminated (liquid)
Remove: When wet (flammable)
Change: No recommendation
Provide: Quick drench (liquid)
First Aid(See procedures)
Eye: Irrigate immediately (liquid)
Skin: Water flush immediately (liquid)
Breathing: Respiratory support
Respirator RecommendationsNIOSHAt concentrations above the NIOSH REL, or where there is no REL, at any detectable concentration:
(APF = 10,000) Any self-contained breathing apparatus that has a full facepiece and is operated in a pressure-demand or other positive-pressure mode
(APF = 10,000) Any supplied-air respirator that has a full facepiece and is operated in a pressure-demand or other positive-pressure mode in combination with an auxiliary self-contained positive-pressure breathing apparatusEscape:
(APF = 50) Any air-purifying, full-facepiece respirator (gas mask) with a chin-style, front- or back-mounted organic vapor canister
Any appropriate escape-type, self-contained breathing apparatus


In the U.S. the use of methyl bromide is regulated by:

  • Montreal Protocol
    The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty developed to protect the earth from the detrimental effects of ozone stratospheric depletion. Since its initial signing by the United States and 26 other countries in 1987, virtually the whole world has signed on to the treaty (191 countries are now Parties to the treaty). The Parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed to specific reduction steps that lead to the phaseout of production and import of ozone-depleting substances, including methyl bromide.
    The Montreal Protocol required phase out in industrialized countries by the year 2005, and a future freeze in developing country use.
  • Clean Air Act
    The Clean Air Act defines EPA’s responsibilities for protecting and improving the nation’s air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer (#Clean Air Act).
    A 1998 amendment (P.L. 105-178, Title VI) conformed the Clean Air Act phase-out date with that of the Montreal Protocol (#CRS Report for Congress).

There are allowable exemptions to the phaseout which include:
1) the Quarantine and Preshipment (QPS) exemption, to eliminate quarantine pests, and
2) the Critical Use Exemption (CUE), designed for agricultural users with notechnically or economically feasible alternatives (#EPA).

The 2011 nomination for exemptions from the phase-out of methyl bromide covers 15 crops and their uses, including tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucurbits, orchard replants, and post-harvest uses (#EPA-2011 Critical Use Exemption Nominations from the Phaseout of Methyl Bromide).

Information from ABC News, Fox News, EPA, OSHA, CDC, NIOSH and NSC.



Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald , CHSO, STS  ,  EHS Supervisor ,   DFA-Portales NM


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