The Picton community was tonight again at risk of methyl bromide fumigation gas exposure, as log fumigators in Shakespeare Bay released tons of the neurotoxic gas with light breeze flowing onto Picton according to eyewitnesses.
Logs in the hold of the 170m ship Pontonostos and up to 20 stacks of wharfside logs have been fumigated with the highly toxic gas over the last 24 hours.
With an absence of air modelling to identify the direction of the invisible gas plume being released throughout the evening, Soil & Health Association spokesperson Steffan Browning monitored the activity from the port lookout and followed Port Marlborough’s Live Weather website. (1) Winds were light and predominantly from the north west passing the fumigation site through the Cook Strait ferry terminals, harbour and rail yards into Picton township.
Local environmental group Guardians of the Sounds and the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand have led calls for the halt or recapture of methyl bromide fumigation in Picton and are members of the The Coalition against the use of Methyl Bromide which protested in Picton, Wellington and Tauranga recently as part of the Trade Unions Workers Memorial Day. This year there was particular reference to the men who had died from motor neurone disease in Nelson following exposure to methyl bromide fumigant at Port Nelson.
“I am concerned about the potential cumulative effect from these repeat fumigations on our Picton community,” said Guardians of the Sounds chairman Pete Beech. “Tonights fumigation is to be repeated for another log ship the Duncan Bay waiting to dock.”
“The deaths of the seaman in the hold of the log ship at Marsden Point today, whether caused by methyl bromide gas or not, reminds us of the deadly risks associated with this gas, given that it is tasteless, odourless and invisible and being heavier than air is known to linger.”
“With no odour, the people of Picton and workers have no idea whether they are exposed to the fumigant gas,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. “We do know that the monitoring for Port Marlborough is not likely to detect the majority of the gas plume as air modelling has not occurred.”
“One Picton resident who has experienced ill health following fumigations moved through to Blenheim for the night to avoid the fumigant. He is also protesting the Marlborough District Council’s poor handling of the methyl bromide issue locally.”
“Once again the so called independent monitoring company was employing fumigation staff to check monitoring devices on Port Shakespeare’s fences. This is a direct conflict of interest.”
“The tarpaulins were removed consecutively from log stacks in about a minute each releasing the gas in a sequence of more concentrated plumes while the fumigant gas in the ships hold was being released continuously through the evening.”
Soil & Health will present to the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s (ERMA) methyl bromide reassessment hearing in Wellington on May 17, and Pete Beech will speak to the Guardians of the Sounds submission in Picton May 19. Other hearings that week will be in Nelson, Tauranga and Auckland. Many submitters have called for the use of recapture technology for methyl bromide gas after fumigation.
Soil & Health aspires to an Organic 2020 where biosecurity can be protected without the release to the environment of toxic gases.
Soil & Health’s response to ERMA’s 5 November 2009 Evaluation & Review recommendations report is copied further below.
ERMAs Chemical Cowboy Approach To Methyl Bromide Branded Reckless
Nov 6, 2009
ERMA’s methyl bromide control recommendations, released yesterday, are among the most reckless in the world with little regard for human and environmental safety, according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ. (1)
“Releasing a gas that seriously depletes our ozone layer and is a known neurotoxin, and allowing bystanders to be as close as 50 metres from the release of up to 1000kg of that gas is outrageous. This has to be one of ERMA’s worst,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.(2)
Tonnes of methyl bromide fumigant gas are released to air from under tarpaulins or ships holds following each log fumigation, with smaller amounts being released from containers used for fumigation of imported and export goods.
“With no mandatory air modelling recommended, monitoring is useless and fumigators are only making assumptions of where this invisible, odourless and dangerous fumigant will go. It should be asked why ERMA puts restrictions on anything. This report has to be one of the clearest examples of how New Zealand’s environmental, health and safety regulatory bodies are failing the community.”
The recommendations are part of the Environmental Risk Management Authority’s (ERMA) current reassessment of methyl bromide. The reassessment comes at a time when log exports are soaring. Export log fumigations account for more than 80% of the methyl bromide used in New Zealand. Although originally aiming to phase out the use of methyl bromide gas by next year as part of the ozone-focused Montreal Protocol, New Zealand is now using close to 10 times the amount of methyl bromide gas than it was in 2001.
“The dominant focus of ERMA’s report is on effects to the market economy. This means ERMA is functioning more as an Economic Risk Management Authority. The environmental and human safety hazards are clearly secondary to New Zealand’s big business interests,” said Mr Browning.
“Soil & Health is not opposed to the use of methyl bromide for fumigation for biosecurity purposes either, but the release of hundreds of tonnes of the extremely toxic gas near local communities and its inevitable effect on climate change is unacceptable.”
“Recapturing the gas, as is done in Nelson and overseas, should have been demanded by ERMA throughout New Zealand, and gas recapture infrastructure quickly developed by the log exporters. However cost has once again been allowed to come before the health and safety of New Zealanders.”
Tasmania has already made methyl bromide recapture mandatory for quarantine treatment, and the European Parliament has banned the use of methyl bromide within the European Union (EU) from March 18, 2010. (3)
“Methyl bromide due to its damage of the ozone layer has a much greater effect on climate change than carbon dioxide, yet ERMA is hiding behind the fact that man made ozone hole damage appears to be lessening. So now New Zealand is blatantly taking advantage of everyone else fixing the problem.”
“With ERMA’s chemical cowboy approach, New Zealand is once again demeaning its clean green 100% Pure reputation.”
Soil & Health has been involved with several ERMA reassessments and other hearings, and believes the ERMA submission process now open to the public until 18 December, is unlikely to make significant changes to the recommendations.
Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 that will not include release to air of dangerous ozone depleting fumigants.
(2) Extract from ERMA’s Methyl Bromide Reassessment Application
1. The Agency proposes the adoption of the following tolerable exposure limits (TELs):
TEL(acute)24 hour average
TEL (acute)1 hour
2. The Agency proposes that the following minimum buffer zones (the downwind distance between the ventilation release location and any non-occupational bystander) be observed when ventilation occurs:
Ship‘s hold (greater than 1000 kg methyl bromide used)
Ship‘s hold (less than 1000 kg)
Logs/timber under covers outdoors and indoors (without recapture technology)
Note 1: Non-occupational bystanders include not just those persons living in nearby residential properties but also those who may be temporarily present in a location, for example, walking on footpaths.
(3) European Union
B1.2.1 At its meeting on March 25, 2009, the European Parliament banned the use of methyl bromide within the European Union (EU) from March 18, 2010. This ban is significantly sooner than the 2015 phase-out originally proposed by the European Commission and supported by EU governments.
B1.2.2 The ban covers the use of methyl bromide as a pesticide, as well as its use for QPS purposes prior to transport. This ban includes the gassing of containers to control vermin. The only remaining exceptions to the ban will be the use of methyl bromide for analytical use in laboratories and for its use in emergencies, such as where a large-scale epidemic occurs (methyl bromide used for emergencies may be used for a period not exceeding 120 days and up to a quantity not exceeding 20 metric tonnes).
B1.2.3 The calculated level of methyl bromide which may be used in the period from 1 January 2010 to 18 March 2010 in the EU is not to exceed 45 (ODP) tonnes. Until 18 March 2010 methyl bromide may be placed on the market and used for QPS purposes for treatment of goods for export, under the condition that at least 80 % of methyl bromide released from the consignment is recovered.