Methyl bromide chokes weeds down to their roots and wipes out other pests such as termites. But the odorless gas also contributes to thinning the ozone, and high doses can have serious health effects. The EPA started phasing it out in 1995 as part of the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances.
Although manufacturers were banned from producing methyl bromide in 2005, and contractors were barred from using it for most purposes, groups such as the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and farmers lobbies fought successfully for a “critical-use” extension. No other fumigant is as effective, they argued.
Golf courses are allowed to use methyl bromide until December 2013, but they can only draw from supplies that were stockpiled before 2005. About 36 million pounds of methyl bromide was available in 1995, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. About a third of that was used as it was phased out over 10 years, leaving about 25 million pounds.
Now, as the exemption period comes to a close, the Chevy Chase Club is one of many golf courses that groundskeepers and experts say are hurrying to use the remaining supply on weed-pocked courses before a total ban, worrying environmentalists.
In a newsletter to members, Chevy Chase Club President Thomas F. Fitzgerald said the board approved the use of methyl bromide so that it can be used before the EPA’s deadline. The golf course’s greens are expected to start deteriorating shortly after the deadline, but a restoration using the gas will preserve them for up to 15 years.
“In light of these circumstances, the board has authorized that we move forward with redoing the . . . greens” before the cutoff, according to Fitzgerald’s letter.
The club is under no obligation to inform its neighbors in the densely populated enclave near the District line of its use of the odorless gas, and no permit is required, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which regulates the use of pesticides. A club member anonymously provided a copy of the letter to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, which forwarded the letter in an e-mail to The Washington Post.
Methyl bromide is applied by professional contractors in protective clothing, said golf superintendents and experts who study turf. “You don’t want to mess with this stuff,” said Terry Buchen, a master greenskeeper and golf course consultant in Williamsburg. “It’s a very lethal gas. They contract it out.” But Buchen said that he strongly believes its use on golf courses is safe.