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Whatcom County Health Department
Drinking Water Program, Environmental Health Division
Phone: (360) 676-6724
E-mail: Environmental Health


Fumigants, EDB

Questions and Answers about Ethylene Dibromide (EDB)

What is EDB?

EDB is a colorless, heavy organic liquid with a mildly sweet chloroform-like odor.

How is it used?

EDB is mainly used in anti-knock (leaded) gasoline mixtures, particularly in  aviation fuel. Other uses include: as a pesticide and fumigant for grains and fruit; as a  solvent for resins, gums, and waxes; in water-proofing preparations; and in making dyes  and drugs.

Is it still in use?

In Washington State, EDB was registered for use as a soil fumigant for nematodes  (root worms) on berries and potatoes. EDB was removed from use as a fumigant in the United  States in 1983.

By what other names is it known?

Synonyms and trade names for ethylene dibromide include: EDB, glycol dibromide,  Bromofume, Dowfume W 85, Aadibroom, Iscobrome-D, Nefis, Pestmaster, EDB-85, Soilbrom,  Soilfume, Kopfume, 1,2 -dibromoethane , and ethylene bromide.

Why is EDB being regulated?

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to  determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water, which do or may cause health  problems.

Who regulates EDB?

The Washington State Department of Agriculture regulated the application of EDB as  a pesticide in Whatcom County.

Are there drinking water standards for EDB?

Yes, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL).  MCLs are set considering safety and the ability of public water systems to detect and  remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. The MCL for EDB is 0.05 parts  per billion (ppb or ug/liter).

How much is one part per billion?

To visualize one part per billion, imagine 1 ounce compared to 31 tons or 1 second  compared to 32 years.

What treatment methods will remove EDB from contaminated water?

Granular activated charcoal treatment will remove EDB from contaminated water.

Can contaminated water be used for cooking?

Contaminated water is not recommended for cooking.

Is it harmful to bathe/shower in contaminated water?

There is no direct information on skin exposure to EDB. However, when taking a  shower or bath in EDB contaminated water, a person could be exposed to EDB two ways: (1)  inhalation of EDB that has been released into the air and (2) absorption of EDB through  the skin. The health risks depend on the water concentration of EDB, the water flow rate,  the time spent in the shower/bath and bathroom, and other factors.

What steps can be taken to lower the level of EDB in the water or air while  bathing/showering?

The following steps may reduce inhalation and/or dermal exposure to EDB while  showering/bathing:

  1. Installing a carbon filter in the showerhead or for the entire house (they can be bought  at most hardware or water treatment stores).
  2. Turning on an exhaust fan or opening a window in the bathroom while showering or  bathing.
  3. Reducing the amount of water flowing through the showerhead.
  4. Reducing the time spent in the shower or bath.

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What are the potential health effects of drinking water above the MCL for EDB?

Short-term: damage to the liver, stomach, and adrenal glands along with  significant reproductive system toxicity, particularly the testes.

Long-term: damage to the respiratory system, nervous system, liver, heart, and  kidneys; cancer.

Will the water hurt animals?

EDB is known to cause reproductive problems in animals, and is an animal  carcinogen. It is not known if animals are at the same risk as humans, due to differences  in consumption, life-span, weight, and metabolism.

What type of well is most susceptible to contamination?

Shallow wells, which do not have a good surface seal or are drawing from an  unprotected aquifer, are the most susceptible.

What is a shallow well?

There is no strict definition of a shallow well. Forty (40) feet has frequently  been used as a cut-off point in many groundwater studies.

Are all shallow wells contaminated?

Not all shallow wells are contaminated with EDB. The known areas of contamination  are quite limited and tend to be near former application sites.

How long has it been in my well?

The duration of EDB contamination will depend upon when EDB was used. If your well  has current detectable EDB levels the well has likely been contaminated at least since EDB  was removed from use as a fumigant in 1983.

When was the Health Department first aware of the problem?

Contamination of wells in Whatcom County was confirmed in 1984. Notification of  well owners and the public was made as soon as contamination was confirmed.

What does the Health Department plan to do about it?

There are ongoing studies of groundwater in the area that include EDB. An effort to  expand public education for residents using private wells is anticipated.

What else is there in my water that could hurt me?

Shallow, unprotected wells can be contaminated by bacteria, nitrate and other  chemicals that have been applied to the ground.

For more information: Email us at or call us at (360)  676-6724. Ask to speak to an Environmental Health Specialist in the Water Program.

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