Briefing Paper Re:  Ethylene Dibromide Prepared by the Committee on Community Affairs

Material Information

Briefing Paper Re: Ethylene Dibromide Prepared by the Committee on Community Affairs


Subjects / Keywords:
Jackson County ( local )
Chemicals ( jstor )
Pesticides ( jstor )
Potable water ( jstor )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida


Jake Varn Collection - Briefing Paper Re: Ethylene Dibromide Prepared by the Committee on Community Affairs (JDV Box 43)
General Note:
Box 18, Folder 2 ( Water Management - 1977-1983 ), Item 17
Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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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.




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

the buffer.

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

state supervision.


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.


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.


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."


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.