Protest Against Methyl Bromide Gas Release

Protests beginning in Picton Friday April 23 against toxic methyl bromide fumigant gas being released into the environment are being co-ordinated nationally in respect of Workers Memorial Day on April 28.

Guardians of the Sounds, Soil & Health Association of NZ and the Green Party have been campaigning in Picton for several years on the issue and will be joined by union representatives on Friday.

The protests will continue in Wellington on Monday 26 April and Tauranga 28 April.

“Environmental and food safety NGOs joining in a coalition with the unions representing many of the workers exposed to the dangerous fumigant gas is a step up in opposition against the use and release of methyl bromide,” said Soil & Health New Zealand spokeperson Steffan Browning.

“Methyl bromide gas release to the environment following biosecurity fumigation, damages the ozone layer and influences climate change affecting everyone, but has a very individual and nasty risk to worker and community health for those exposed to fumigation gases.”

“New Zealand is flat out increasing the use of methyl bromide while the rest of the world in accordance with the Montreal Protocol is phasing the toxic gas out. Alternative management is possible, but the perpetrators of health and environmental harm are dodging paying for improvements by using ERMA’s complicity with economic priorities.”

The April 28 Workers Memorial Day honours workers killed during their employment and is particularly pertinent for those that have died from motor neurone disease following methyl bromide exposure at Port Nelson and elsewhere.

“While science has not yet completed the link between methyl bromide and motor neurone disease, the Nelson statistics support the very high liklihood of it being the cause of several port worker deaths. The statistics will be all the more damning when Nelson port workers who have moved elsewhere, ahead of motor neurone disease overcoming them, are included in the statistics.”

Methyl bromide fumigation was banned in Europe last month and is currently being removed from agricultural use in the United States due to its range of toxic effects and ozone depletion.

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) has received 92 submissions to its methyl bromide reassessment process, with about 40% wanting to speak to their submissions. ERMA has set five hearings to be held 17 – 21 May in Wellington, then Nelson, Picton/Blenheim, Tauranga, and Auckland. Members of the public are welcome to attend the hearings, though only submitters may speak. Soil & Health will be presenting to their submission in Wellington Monday 17 May.

The Coalition against the use of Methyl Bromide includes Soil & Health, Combined Trade Unions, Guardians of the Sounds, The Green Party, Maritime Union of NZ, The Rail and Maritime Transport Union, Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand, Safe Food Campaign,  Marlborough Environment Centre, Alliance Party and others, and is focused on ensuring recapture of fumigant into filters rather than environmental release, should there be continued use of methyl bromide beyond ERMA’s reassessment process.

Soil & Health welcomes the breadth of support against methyl bromide and 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

0.005 mg/m3
1.3 mg/m3
3.9 mg/m3

1.3 ppb
333 ppb
1000 ppb

0.0013 ppm
0.333 ppm
1 ppm

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:

Situation – Buffer zone
Ship‘s hold (greater than 1000 kg methyl bromide used) – 100m
Ship‘s hold (less than 1000 kg) – 50m
Logs/timber under covers outdoors and indoors (without recapture technology) – 50m
Shipping containers – 25m

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.

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