Urgent need for Methyl Bromide moratorium

The Soil & Health Association of NZ is calling for an urgent moratorium on methyl bromide gas fumigation in New Zealand, following TV3’s 60 Minutes feature on the health risks of the gas at Picton and Port Nelson. Both ports use methyl bromide for fumigation of export timber, sawn timber at Nelson and logs at Picton’s Shakespeare Bay.

Canterbury University Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Shaw, an international motor neurone disease expert who spoke on the 60 Minutes programme, has said that statistically it appeared the Port Nelson motor neurone disease rate was 25 times the international average. Six port workers have died from the disease, which causes progressive muscular atrophy. Professor Shaw also recommended a moratorium on methyl bromide use, while the possible link between the fumigant’s use and motor neurone disease at Port Nelson was investigated.

Soil & Health also wants a compliance audit of fumigation company Genera, an immediate start to an ERMA reassessment of methyl bromide, and for all local authorities to require resource consents for fumigation discharges.

“We are calling for an urgent compliance audit of Genera, following the 60 Minutes programme’s revelations of inadequate fumigator training, and following Soil & Health’s investigation of Genera’s Port Nelson methyl bromide monitoring records,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“Genera has not adequately completed fumigation monitoring sheets and has incorrectly recorded fumigation times, weather conditions and dates, on the records I obtained through Port Nelson. This shows that Genera will not have met basic safety and monitoring requirements set by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA),” said Browning.

Soil & Health submitted to ERMA in January to have the deadly neurotoxic gas as number 3 to be rapidly reassessed by the Authority. ERMA included methyl bromide in the unordered priority list of 20 for Chief Executive initiated reassessments over 5 years.

“On the basis of Genera’s poor compliance and obvious statistical links of methyl bromide with motor neurone disease, Soil & Health now wants the Chief Executive to immediately begin reassessment of the neurotoxic gas’s future conditions of use.”

Both Marlborough District Council and Nelson City Council, either owners or shareholders in their respective ports, are currently allowing methyl bromide fumigation gas to be discharged into the local environment without resource consent. Port Marlborough has diverted one log shipment while the issue was further considered, and is due to resume at least limited fumigation shortly. This has called into question whether the diversion was to suit local body election timing, an allegation that Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman has refuted.

“A moratorium on further large-scale release of methyl bromide gas to the environment would allow risk-free consideration of health implications. It would also encourage fast adaption to alternatives such as installation of capture technology, which uses charcoal to absorb the gas ahead of either recycling or destruction,” said Mr Browning.

“Government departments and health authorities have failed to address the risks posed to the communities affected and Soil & Health will continue to advocate for urgent change. An Organic 2020 as advocated by Soil & Health will protect community and environmental health while supporting the clean green New Zealand market image.”

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