RE: ETHYLENE DIBROMIDE
PREPARED BY THE COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
SEPTEMBER 19, 1983
Ethylene dibromide (EDB) is a cancer-causing chemical which
is used on a variety of agricultural products, on golf courses,
on public parks and on recreational areas. This chemical has
been discovered in various food products and in wells at depths
of 1,000 feet.
Presently, the Department of Health & Rehabilitative
Services (DHRS) and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services (DOACS) are testing wells located near citrus groves
which may have been contaminated by EDB. The DOACS has been
treating buffer zones located around the citrus groves with EDB
for the past 20 years. Thirty percent of the wells tested to
" date have shown positive levels of the chemical.
Since July, the House Community Affairs Committee, chaired
by Representative Sid Martin, has been studying the issue of
well contamination by EDB. The emphasis of the Committee's
investigation concerned the treatment provided by state and local
response agencies to citizens whose wells are contaminated. In
early August, a random survey was completed which indicated that
many citizens with contaminated wells felt that the state's
response strategy to their problem was inadequate. Representative
Martin called upon Governor Bob.Graham and Agriculture Commissioner
Doyle Conner to initiate a cooperative effort to deal with this
Due to their effort, a special task force, composed of
representatives from Department of Environmental Regulation,
Department of Health & Rehabilitative Services, Department of
Agriculture and Consumer Services and Department of Community
Affairs, has been assembled. Since early September, the
task force has prepared an emergency response program to
provide drinking water and information to those persons whose
wells have been contaminated by EDB. The emergency response pro-
gram should begin before September 23, 1983.
In the course of the Committee's efforts to provide
emergency services to those in need,much information on EDB
has been gathered. The intent of this briefing paper is to answer
a number of pertinent questions concerning this chemical. Hope-
fully, this information will prove useful in providing policy direc-
tion to the Legislature. It should be noted that a great deal of
information is needed before final decisions are made.
WHAT IS EDB AND HOW IS IT USED?
Ethylene dibromide is a persistent, cancer-causing chemical
which has been-in use for over 50 years. It is used as a gasoline
additive, to treat sod on golf courses and residential lawns, and
as a pesticide for crops and in buildings and homes infested with
termites and other insects. More than 40 crops are grown in
EDB-treated soil and many of these fruits, grains and vegetables
are fumigated with it after harvest, prior to shipment to markets
throughout the United States and Japan. Ethylene dibromide's most
concentrated use is in "buffer zones" along citrus groves where
massive doses are injected into the soil to block the spread of
nemetodes (microscopic worms that burrow into the soil and destroy
citrus tree roots).
For over 21 years, the DOACS has injected the pesticide into
422 acres in eight central Florida citrus-producing counties. A
total of approximately 50 gallons per acre of 90 percent EDB
formula is injected annually into strips of land 20 to 30 feet wide,
which act as "buffers" to contain the nemetodes in one section of
a grove. The injection occurs semi-annually in order to maintain
In contrast, an average of only two gallons per acre of EDB
is used to treat nearly 40 other agricultural products. According
to a spokesperson for Great Lakes Chemical Company, which is the
leading producer of EDB for agricultural purposes, "In Florida
in the citrus buffer zones, a much higher application is used -
10 to 20 times the normal rate."
Although DOACS suspended the state use of this pesticide
for citrus groves on July 29, many private growers continue to
use EDB for a variety of crops, including tobacco crops, soybeans
and peanuts in the Panhandle, and potatoes in south Florida. The
pesticide also continues to be used on almost every golf course and
in many public parks. A gaseous form of EDB is sprayed into
fumigation chambers containing harvested crops in order to kill
insects and any larvae that may have been left behind. Thirty
state-run fumigation chambers, located at three stations, treat an
estimated 7,000 semi-truckloads of citrus each year (16 in Fort
Pierce, 12 in Wahneta, and two in Gainesville). Countless
fruit and vegetable farmers and grain packers also fumigate without
WHO PRODUCES EDB AND HOW IS IT SOLD?
Although only six chemical companies produce EDB (including
Dow Chemical and Great Lakes Chemical Company), 53 companies
nationwide make 122 products that contain EDB. Nationwide, approx-
imately 20 million.pounds of EDB are used annually as pesticides
and 300. million pounds are used as a gasoline additive.
Since EDB is not classified as a restricted-use pesticide,
it may be purchased on an over-the-counter basis. This has
increased the difficulty in determining the exact location and
extent of EDB use in Florida.
WHAT IS BEING DONE TO PROTECT THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF THE PUBLIC?
At the present time, the DHRS is collecting samples from every
municipal and private source well within 300 feet of the citrus
buffer zones. Each sample is then sent to DHRS or DOACS labs for
testing. Approximately 1,000 wells within this 300-foot
area will be tested for EDB over the next few weeks. In addition,
DHRS has tested public drinking water supplies in Jackson County
where the Department learned that this pesticide was widely used
on soybeans and peanuts.
The DHRS decided to test only those wells located within
the 300-foot areas based on the financial and physical capability
of the Department. It is not known whether this chemical has
leached into wells beyond 300 feet from the buffer zone because
these wells have not been tested.
Nearly 30 percent of all wells tested have shown positive
traces of EDB, including 90 wells with levels which exceed state
tolerance levels. The positive wells have been located in five
Florida counties: Polk, Highlands, Lake, Orange, and Jackson.
In addition, five municipal wells have been found to be contaminated
with EDB since testing began July 5: two city wells in Malone in
Jackson County, two city wells in DeSoto City in Lake County, and
a city well in Lake Wales in Polk County.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH EDB?
No federal drinking water standard has been established for EDB.
Another state with a high agricultural use of EDB, Hawaii, has
established a toxicity level of 50 parts per trillion. The DHRS
has established a level of 100 parts per trillion (.1 parts per
billion) or more of EDB in water as a positive test result.
One Polk County well had a reading of 700 parts per billion.
Relatively speaking, 100 parts per trillion is a very small
quantity. According to Frank Wheeler of Great Lakes Chemical
Company, "to give you a feel for 15 parts per billion, that
would. be like the first inch of a transcontinental trip."
The state's DHRS has determined that at that level, if
individuals consumed two liters of water a day for about 20
years, approximately one in 100,000 will develop cancer. However, the
mortality rate increases significantly for infants who consume
water contaminated with EDB.
Numerous studies have been conducted to document the dangers
of EDB ingestion into the human body (through eating and drinking).
However, very little is known about the dangers of absorbing the
chemical through the skin or any other membranes.
According to Dr. Steve King of DHRS, this chemical has been
widely studied since 1974. It has been under attack since 1977,
when the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released
a report establishing the dangers of EDB intake. Based on studies
of laboratory animals, the EPA indicated that ingestion of EDB can
cause tumors. Fifteen days after inhaling EDB, laboratory animals
developed cancerous tumors and died. In addition to cancer, EDB
can cause birth defects and sterility. Scientists fear these
problems are etched into the human gene pool because EDB is believed
to accumulate in the body by attaching permanently to DNA, the
body's hereditary memory bank.
According to Stuart Cohen, an EPA chemist, "of all the
pesticides we've dealt with, this is one of the riskiest (because)
it's such a potent tumor-causing chemical."
WHAT IS THE EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM IN FLORIDA?
The extent of the problem in Florida is unknown for several
reasons. First, because EDB is not a restricted-use pesticide,
there are no records concerning the amount or type and location
of application. This lack of information will block any further
effort to identify additional contaminated wells.
Second, the state is only testing within the citrus buffer zone
(with an exception in Jackson County). Thus, no one knows if EDB
is located outside this arbitrary 300-foot area established by
Third, this chemical has been found in some very deep wells.
In Lake Wales, the contaminated well has a depth of 1,050 feet
deep. Thus EDB could be in the Floridan Aquifer which provides
water to three-fourths of the state. According to Steve Fox,
environmental permitting director for DER, "It's very possible it
(EDB) could be very deep (in the aquifer)."
The state simply does not know the extent of the problem.
According to Ralph Brown, with DOACS, "This could be just the
beginning. Why haven't we found it (EDB) elsewhere? We haven't
looked every place else."
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO TREAT OR CLEAN UP EDB-CONTAMINATED WATER?
Very little is known about what is required to remove
the chemical from contaminated wells. The DER has placed an
activated carbon filter on two private wells to examine whether EDB
can be filtered out. So far, results have shown that this method
has been successful. But continuous laboratory tests will be run
on the treated water for several months to determine if it will be
effective over a period of time without creating any significant,
unanticipated consequences (e.g., a rise in the wells.' bacteria count).
With regard to public wells, filters are not a feasible
alternative due to the quantity of water. Currently, aeration and
chlorine injection are being tested to remove EDB in public wells.
No results are available at this time.
Boiling water is also not a viable method of removing EDB.
Since this chemical boils at a much higher temperature than water,
boiling will only increase the concentration of EDB as the water
is boiled away.
It is significant to note that EDB has a 14-year half life.
In other words, one-half of the chemical will dissipate in still
water in 14 years. Thus, it will take a.relatively long period of
time for EDB to dissolve through natural processes.
WHAT IS THE REACTION OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE EDB-CONTAMINATED WELLS?
The Committee staff attempted to contact 12 people listed
by the DOACS as having wells contaminated with the pesticide EDB.
After repeated attempts, staff contacted seven citizens who had
EDB-contaminated well water to discern whether the state's response
to this emergency has been adequate. (See accompanying survey).
In six out of seven cases, citizens expressed dissatisfaction
with the state's response. The citizens indicated that: 1) No
plan is in place to deal with this crisis, 2) conflicting informa-
tion concerning how to deal with the problem has been provided by
state and local officials, and 3) treatment by state and local
authorities towards those citizens has been rude in. many instances.
One respondent expressed total satisfaction with the state's
approach. He indicated that no one is responsible for this
incident, so he is willing to pay to.rectify the situation.
WHAT IS BEING DONE FOR THESE PEOPLE?
As a result of numerous meetings among officials of four state
agencies,. a process was established to provide emergency services
to people who have EDB-contaminated wells. Also, a task force
was established, coordinated by the DER to administer the activities
of these agencies and to ensure there is no duplication.
Presently, the DHRS and the DOACS are testing wells located
near citrus groves which may have been contaminated by the EDB.
The DOACS has been treating buffer zones located around citrus
groves with EDB for the past 20 years. Thirty percent of the wells
tested to date- have shown positive traces of the chemical.
Once the emergency response program- commences, individuals
with contaminated wells will be contacted by the county health
office and provided 10 gallons of drinking water. These people
will be told not to drink the well water. In addition, locations
where a safe water drinking supply is available at a central
pick-up station will be provided to these citizens. Handicapped
and indigent citizens will have water delivered to their residences.
This process will continue for a period of 90 days, at which time
residents will be responsible for providing their own water unless
no alternatives for obtaining clean quality water exist.
The DER is presently studying the behavior patterns of EDB
in Florida soils and reviewing alternatives for cleanup and treat-
ment of contaminated water.
The DCE is providing emergency management services including
a toll free telephone number for residents to get information 24
hours per day regarding the situation in their area. The Department
is also coordinating activities at the local level to ensure that
water is available on an emergency basis.
The costs of these efforts are being borne by each of the
participating agencies. However, the DER will be providing clean
water to affected citizens and will be appropriating approximately
$150,000 to study the behavior patterns of EDB. This money will be
obtained from the Water Quality Assurance Trust Fund.
WHAT IS HAPPENING OUTSIDE OF FLORIDA?
According to news reports, other states' responses have varied
as they try to balance agricultural interest and public health.
California's Department of Food and Agriculture suspended EDB use
in five counties this year because drinking water wells were
contaminated. Hawaii, on the other hand, doesn't favor banning
the pesticide. The Governor of Hawaii has indicated that the
economic costs simply outweigh the improved health benefits.
The federal government is also investigating this chemical.
The EPA has not acted to ban this chemical despite its revealing
trpoty in 1977. For this reason, Congressional hearings have been
scheduled by the House Governmental Operations Subcommittee on environ-
ment, energy, and natural resources in September. In addition, the
EPA has established a review team to study EDB. According to an
Orlando Sentinel story, many experts predict that the federal
government.will ban this chemical in the very near future.
Note: Sources for information may be obtained from the House
Committee on Community Affairs, Room 326 House Office Building.