Wellington’s air quality safety agencies are dangerously misleading

Failure by Greater Wellington Regional Council, CentrePort and the Department of Labour to detect toxic methyl bromide gas at CentrePort’s Port Wellington boundary on Tuesday shows that monitoring is inadequate, according to the Soil & Health Association.

Following log fumigation under tarpaulins, a large volume of neurotoxic methyl bromide gas was released at Wellington’s waterfront on Tuesday. Monitoring was carried out primarily by fumigator company Genera. This followed concerns expressed by Soil & Health, who insist that log fumigation in town and city centres must stop until gas capture technology is begun.

“It is exactly as we told the Council,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. “Air scientists insist that monitoring in the absence of air modelling will tell them little. Monitoring for an invisible, odourless, tasteless gas when you do not know where it is going, is as one scientist said, “like trying to catch a mosquito in a bird net, totally worthless.” Modelling is required to show where it is appropriate to monitor.”

“Somehow the Council and fumigator company Genera, who supplied most monitoring equipment, seem to suggest that magically the gas just disappears when they know full well, that particularly in the light wind conditions of Tuesday, that the gas would dissipate slowly. There is absolutely no way that methyl bromide was not passing the Port boundary on Tuesday and they know that. They did not know where to look and also appeared to avoid the obvious.”

“Methyl bromide is heavier than air and although eventually mixing and diluting with air, it will behave in a variety of ways as any gas does, depending on conditions at the time. Genera and the Port Company, which is majority owned by the Regional Council, have a vested interest in log fumigation business as usual, and are not the independent air scientists that the community needs to have assessing safety risks.”

“Under its own air plan and the Resource Management Act, the Greater Wellington Regional Council has an obligation to stop the log fumigation, and to not fudge the very real safety risks or the Council’s environmental responsibilities.”

“Nelson City Council’s fumigation rules developed with expert air scientists, include capture and destruction technology as agreed there by Genera, and such miniscule levels of air contamination that consequently rule out log fumigation in Port Nelson due to the health and safety risks. Wellington City is just as exposed, yet those responsible for public safety and environmental care appear to be dodging the hard decisions.”

“Media coverage suggesting long term methyl bromide use at the Port, fails to distinguish the huge differences between the relatively small amounts of gas used on some imported goods and the massive amounts recently being used on commodity log shipments. This amounts nationally to a a 300% increase in methyl bromide use since 2001, even with the phasing out of methyl bromide soil fumigation in horticulture.”

“ Log fumigation in towns and cities must be stopped immediately and an urgent phasing in of fumigant capture and destruction technology, heat treatment and other phytosanitary alternatives must be implemented for imports,” said Mr Browning.

Soil & Health is committed to an Organic 2020, with healthy soil, food and people.

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