Picton’s residents face gas for Nelson’s logs again

Tonnes of neurotoxic and ozone depleting fumigant methyl bromide gas will again be released from the 169m ship Eastern Star’s hold at Picton’s Shakespeare Bay wharf tonight, and tomorrow evening (28 January) more tonnes of the gas will be released from under the 13 wharf side tarpaulins covering approximately 9000 tons of logs destined for India. (1)

Methyl bromide gas is used as a phytosanitary control for import-exports, with log fumigations primarily targeting two pine beetles.

Port Nelson has stringent rules that would mean logs fumigated there would need the fumigant gas recaptured, as happens for some other cargos such as sawn timber. However because it is cheaper to avoid setting up a log fumigant recapture facility there, Nelson logs are being shipped to Port Marlborough’s Shakespeare Bay facility for fumigation with Marlborough logs, according to the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand.

“To make matters worse, Marlborough sawn timber for other markets but previously fumigated using the recapture system in Nelson, are being trucked to Port Lyttelton where it is cheaper to fumigate and release to the Lyttelton environment,” said Soil & Health-Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“Port Nelson methyl bromide fumigation was subject to an Environment Court hearing that studiously looked at the exposure risks of the invisible, tasteless and odourless gas. There is nothing different from Nelson in the risk profile of Picton or Lyttelton.”

“The New Zealand timber industry is stalling from its global ozone hole responsibility and releasing a neurotoxic, carcinogenic gas next to port communities throughout New Zealand.”

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) following a reassessment of methyl bromide use and controls last year decided that methyl bromide use to be subject to recapture within a decade, although finding that recapture would only be a cost of 2.7% of current log values.(2)

This was in part due to large scale recapture facilities not being trialled in New Zealand, but Europe has banned the release of methyl bromide gas and most of the world is quickly finding alternatives to meet the Montreal Protocol agreement in reducing ozone depleting gases. ERMA were clear that local authorities may require more stringent safeguards than in their decision, but none have seriously actioned any proposals for change. (3,4)

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 2010 as part of the ozone-focused Montreal Protocol, New Zealand is now using more than 10 times the amount of methyl bromide gas than it was in 2001, and expects to be exporting 3 times the current log volumes in 5 years.

“The spike in New Zealand logs in 5 years will be an international disgrace if fumigation gases are not recaptured by then,” said Mr Browning.

“Is this another reason why Prime Minister and tourism Minister John Key’s Christmas present to New Zealand was the dropping of the very successful 100% Pure New Zealand branding that we were all so proud to be striving to make real?” (5)

“Local communities subject to toxic methyl bromide drift, and the global community that is fighting against climate change, need New Zealand industry and government to establish recapture facilities immediately, or stop using methyl bromide all together.”

Soil & Health – Organic NZ have a vision of an organic Aotearoa New Zealand where sustainably grown timber and other exports use environmentally benign phytosanitary measures fitting with a strategy for a clean green 100% Pure New Zealand.


(1)      Photograph included in this post available for media

(2)    http://www.ermanz.govt.nz/news-events/methylbromide/index.html

(3)    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;

(4)    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.


100% Pure New Zealand has been used to promote New Zealand as a tourism destination since 1999. Last November, New Zealand was ranked the third strongest country brand in the world by FutureBrands Country Brand Index.

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