Methyl bromide ban needed now

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The Council of Trade Unions is calling for the use of methyl bromide to be completely banned in New Zealand as evidence mounts that it puts worker health and safety at serious risk. Methyl bromide is used for the pre-export fumigation of logs.

Professor Ian Shaw, toxicologist and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Canterbury, asserts that methyl bromide may have caused motor neurone disease in Nelson port workers after a cluster of deaths from the disease (see New Zealand Herald, Monday 25 January). Nelson’s port population has suffered a rate of motor neuron disease 25 times the international average.

The European Parliament has banned the use of methyl bromide in the EU from 18 March 2010 for environmental and health reasons. This goes beyond the requirements of the Montreal Protocol (to which NZ is a signatory) banning the use of methyl bromide, with the single exception of pre-shipment fumigation of export logs. As well as its toxicity, methyl bromide is 60 times more destructive to ozone on an atom-per-atom basis than the chlorine from CFCs.

“There is no evidence to justify any human exposure level to methyl bromide,” said CTU President Helen Kelly. “This neurological poison could have caused the fatal motor neurone disease in six Port Nelson workers, and its ozone depleting status means it is hazardous to us all.”

“Four of New Zealand’s five major importers of whole logs - China, Japan, Malaysia and Korea - will officially accept timber fumigated with phosphine, so why are we still exposing our workers to this potentially deadly poison? Its continued use could also damage our international reputation because it is contrary to our obligations under the Montreal Protocol. Despite the concession of fumigation the Protocol urges New Zealand to refrain from the use of methyl bromide and to use non-ozone-depleting technologies wherever possible.”

“New Zealand should follow the EU’s lead and not only reduce the risks of methyl bromide exposure to human health but also reduce the destructive effect on the ozone layer which exposes all of us to harmful UV radiation.”

METHYL BROMIDE FACTSHEET

1.1. Parties to the Montreal Protocol are urged “to refrain from use of methyl bromide and to use non-ozone-depleting technologies wherever possible” and the parties are also urged “to minimize emissions and use of methyl bromide through containment and recovery and recycling methodologies to the extent possible”.(1) 
1.2. There are much safer alternatives to methyl bromide including heat treatment, irradiation, water soaking debarking microwave treatment, phosphone, methyl isothocyanate/sulfuryl flouoride mixture, methyl iodide and cyanogens.(2)
1.3. The bromine from methyl bromide is 60 times more destructive to ozone on an atom-per-atom basis than the chlorine from CFCs.
1.4. The European Parliament banned the use of methyl bromide from 18 March 2010 because it recognised the gain to be made in environmental and health benefits. The EU went beyond the Montreal protocol and led by example.
1.5. The export log/sawn timber industry uses nearly 80% of the methyl bromide used in NZ.(3)  
1.6. Four of New Zealand’s five major importers of whole logs: China, Japan, Malaysia and Korea will officially accept logs fumigated with phosphine.(4)   However India still requires that logs are fumigated with methyl bromide.
1.7. Professor Ian Shaw, toxicologist and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Canterbury, asserts that methyl bromide may have caused motor neurone disease in Nelson Port workers after a cluster of deaths from the disease.(5)

1  Seventh Meeting of the parties to the Montreal protocol, 1995
2  October 2009 TEAP Quarantine and Preshipment Taskforce Final Report page 66 - 72
3  Ibid. page nine Executive Summary
http://www.biosecurity.govt.nz/commercial-exports/forestry-exports/export-certification-standards
5  Ian Shaw THE NEW ZEALAND MEDICAL JOURNAL Could exposure to methyl bromide cause motor neurone disease? 28 January 2005, Vol 118 No 1208