Methyl bromide fumigant bouquet for Picton this Valentines Day

posted in: Health, Media Releases

Fumigation of logs with the highly toxic gas methyl bromide is intended to resume in a few weeks at Port Marlborough, Picton. On 14 February this year, fumigation with the neuro-toxic and ozone depleting gas is planned for a shipment of logs for export. In September 2007, this fumigation was stopped.

Methyl bromide gas used for export log fumigation has been vented from Port Marlborough’s Shakespeare Bay facility in the past. This is close to Picton’s wharves and township and was halted in September 2007 following major public meetings organised by Guardians of the Sounds in opposition to the fumigation.

Soil & Health Association spokesperson, Steffan Browning, who raised the methyl bromide issue in Picton, and Guardians Chairman Peter Beech, have been invited to a meeting at Port Marlborough. They will meet with Picton councillors, Port Company officials, the log exporter Zindia and fumigator company Genera on February 3rd (9.30 a.m.) to discuss the February 14th log fumigation at Shakespeare Bay.

“The anger of the community of Picton can be expected to be high,” said Mr Beech, “Port Marlborough, Genera and Zindia all know the feelings of the people, yet appear to be blinded by profit. The 2007 Picton public meetings showed the Marlborough District Council and the Council owned Port Company that the community’s level of tolerance to local toxic fumigation was at an end and public protest can be expected.”

“Log fumigation with methyl bromide at Shakespeare Bay is contrary to the undertaking by Port Marlborough CEO Ian McNabb, soon after his replacement of Des Ashton who had been CEO at the time of the 2007 controversy,” said Mr Browning. “Mr McNabb had told Mr Beech and me on separate occasions that while he was there, there would be no methyl bromide fumigations.”

“It is clear that the Picton community wants release of methyl bromide and its similarly toxic alternative phosphine gas to be permanently stopped in Picton. A public statement is now needed from the Port Company and District Mayor, that release of fumigants into the atmosphere at Picton will stop permanently.”

Methyl bromide (CH3Br) is an odourless, colourless gas, used as a pre-shipment (QPS) fumigant pesticide that kills all pests and is extremely toxic to humans. Human exposure to methyl bromide has potentially serious acute impacts on the central nervous system and internal organs that can be fatal, with a range of neurological and cancer causing effects associated with chronic exposure. Methyl bromide use is limited internationally due to health risks and its serious ozone depleting properties, although due to log exports a 300% increase in its use in New Zealand occurred from 2001 – 2007.

Previous log fumigations were under tarpaulins at the Port with methyl bromide gas being released to the atmosphere when fumigation was complete. Methyl bromide used to fumigate the hold of the Hong Kong registered ship Kang Shen on 14 February will also be released to the atmosphere.

“Responsible methyl bromide fumigators internationally are capturing the gas rather than participating in ozone depletion and risking the health of communities. Log exporters in clean green New Zealand need to lift their game. Methyl bromide is 50 times more damaging to the ozone layer than now banned CFC refrigerants,” said Mr Browning.

“The fumigation is contradictory to an Environment Court decision for Port Nelson which gave strict guidelines for exposure using ‘capture and destruction’ technology. Capture and destruction is light years ahead in safety than the archaic methods of releasing gas to air without any filtering or certainty of where the toxin is going.”

An international motor neurone disease expert, Canterbury University Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Shaw, in 2007 said that statistically it appeared the Port Nelson motor neurone disease rate was 25 times the international average. At least six port workers had died from the disease, which causes progressive muscular atrophy.

“This ozone depleting neurotoxin should not be released anywhere, let alone near communities throughout New Zealand,” said Mr Beech.

“The log exporters concern about economic impact must be a very big second to the health risks posed to the community and the damage to the ozone layer, particularly relevant to Marlborough which has New Zealand’s highest level of melanoma, and in a year which has record ozone depletion effects,” said Mr Browning.

ERMA has recently begun a 2-½ year process reassessing methyl bromide’s use and controls, and the Pest Management Association has developed an interim Code of Practice – The Control and Safe Use of Fumigants. However the Code of Practice is only voluntary, not site-specific, and does not adequately address safe exposure limits or the release to the ozone layer, according to Soil & Health. The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act states that affected parties must be consulted in approval of Codes of Practice, but so far the Guardians of the Sounds, the Soil & Health Association of NZ and the wider community have not been consulted.

“Clean alternatives to toxic or ozone depleting gases must be implemented in keeping with Brand New Zealand’s Clean Green 100% Pure image, and Soil & Health’s vision of an Organic 2020.”