The Green Party is calling on WorkSafe and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to undertake an urgent review of the ongoing use of methyl bromide – a highly toxic fumigant – at ports across the country.
The call follows a decision made by the Environment Court last Friday to block an application by Envirofume Ltd to fumigate logs for export using methyl bromide at the Port of Tauranga.
Envirofume’s application to use methyl bromide was rejected on the basis that it could harm people’s health and contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. The Court also concluded that methyl bromide should only be used to fumigate logs in dedicated areas designed to recapture the gas.
“This decision makes it clear that this highly toxic fumigant shouldn’t be used unless it is very carefully recaptured. Yet multiple ports in New Zealand still fail to protect their workers by safely recapturing the gas,” says Green Party pesticide and biosecurity spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“Under the Montréal Protocol, the government is meant to phase out the use of ozone-depleting methyl bromide by 2020, but since 1990 its use in New Zealand has increased tenfold.
Workers and residents near the ports of Napier, Tauranga and Whangarei are potentially being exposed to methyl bromide as there is limited recapture of the gas in those places, he claims.
“We need both WorkSafe and the EPA to do their job, stop the unsafe release of this toxic gas, and protect both workers and the environment,” Browning insists.
Methyl bromide, if inhaled, can have long-term impacts on the brain, increase the risk of cancers and neurological issues. “We shouldn’t be exposing anyone to this stuff,” he stresses.
“Because the gas is colourless and odourless, people don’t even know if they’ve inhaled it until well down the track, when they have potentially serious health issues.”