Methyl bromide decision equals toxic business as usual

The reassessment decision today by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) of the toxic and ozone depleting fumigant methyl bromide, disappointingly means business as usual for the timber industry and exporter-importers for up to 10 years according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ.(1)

Methyl bromide gas is used primarily as a pest control fumigant for imported and exported goods with New Zealand’s increasing log exports being the largest user. New Zealand has an obligation under the Montreal Protocol On Substances That Deplete The Ozone Layer to minimize methyl bromide emissions and recover and recycle to the extent possible, but Soil & Health – Organic NZ believe that by leaving a 10 year window of use, ERMA’s decision is minimal in recognition of the severely damaging effect methyl bromide has on climate change.(2)

Specific points regarding the decision

·         Buffer zones as little as zero and 10 metres from communities.

·         ERMA has downplayed potential risks to human health.

·         No stenching agent for smell detection of the odourless, invisible gas.

·         No transitional reduction targets until mandatory recapture in 10 years.

·         Recapture of gas would only cost 2.7% of current log exports value.

·         Local communities to decide adequate protection for their regions.(3)

·         No air modelling required determining effectiveness of monitoring.

·         Log exports expected to triple within 5 years.

·         Previous common soil fumigant use previously replaced by more toxic methyl iodide.

·         Limited soil use against potato wart in residential areas by MAF-Biosecurity NZ.

“There are no provisions in today’s decision that substantially improve protection of communities or the ozone layer from methyl bromide’s toxic or depleting effects over the next decade,” said Soil & Health – Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“Infrastructure for the recapture or recycling of methyl bromide could be implemented much sooner. This is a decision based on economics not human or environmental health.”

“Monitoring of the extremely toxic, invisible, odourless and tasteless gas is left to presumptions of where the gas might go and ERMA totally avoided the subject of air modelling in its decision.”

“Buffer zones for communities may be as little as 10 metres from release points of the gas, and just 25 metres for childcare facilities, schools, hospitals or long-term care facilities. Exemptions may be applied for if a buffer is too logistically awkward for a business.”

“ERMA has once again used economics as the driving force for a decision that has grave health implications for workers, communities and the environment; the Environmental Risk Management Authority has once again abdicated its environmental responsibilities and is truly the Economic Risk Management Authority with big business as the primary benefactor.”

“While committing to using increasing amounts of an internationally rejected gas, New Zealand has the engineering capacity and ingenuity to recycle and recapture in a much smaller time frame than that set by ERMA,” said Mr Browning.

‘Clean green 100% Pure Aotearoa New Zealand has made a weak attempt to show it is meeting its global responsibilities by currently imposing a 10 year limit on open release of methyl bromide gas, but in line with the expected tripling of log exports within 5 years, methyl bromide use will significantly increase before any real attempt will be made for recapture.”

Soil & Health – Organic NZ has campaigned for decades against the use of methyl bromide use and has a vision of an Organic 2020.


(2)    New Zealand has an obligation under the Montreal Protocol to: refrain from use of methyl bromide and to use non-ozone-depleting technologies wherever possible. Where methyl bromide is used, Parties are urged to minimise emissions and use of methyl bromide through containment and recovery and recycling methodologies to the extent possible;

(3)   The Committee notes the concerns of Nelson City Council which suggested that the minimum buffer zones proposed in the reassessment application may conflict with local requirements under the RMA. It is very important to emphasise that these minimum buffer zones do not preclude regional councils, unitary authorities or port authorities from setting more stringent controls (e.g. larger buffer zones) if they deem them necessary because of local conditions. The Committee notes that section 142(3) of the Act specifically envisages situations where a local authority may choose to impose more stringent requirements on the use of a hazardous substance than that required under the Act.

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