Safer and "Greener" Biosecurity Treatment of Export Logs

Methyl bromide (MB) is a gas used by many countries, including New Zealand, for the phytosanitary treatment of export logs. MB is colourless, odourless and highly toxic to insects (but also animals if in high concentrations) and is a very effective fumigant. However, it is also an ozone depleting gas which has led to it being banned internationally for all but quarantine applications.

Currently New Zealand uses around 170 tonnes of MB annually, of which 70% is used by the forestry sector. Due to the environmental and health concerns, PF Olsen has been involved in a programme to reduce the use of MB since 2001 when PF Olsen's Special Projects and Seed Orchard Manager, Dr Wei-Young Wang, travelled with a New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officer to China and successfully negotiated the use of phosphine as an alternative fumigant for log exports to China.

Dr Wei-Young Wang in front of a 20 foot sea container loaded with commercial logs and insect-infested logs (painted white) ready for a 10 day phosphine fumigation trial.

Phosphine gas is toxic to insects but it doesn't harm the ozone layer and because it is used for onboard treatment of below-deck cargoes in transit, fumigation is done when ships leave the New Zealand port. It is estimated that the volume of MB used between 2002 and 2008 reduced by about 1,420 tonnes because of phosphine and saved the industry around 30 million dollars in fumigation costs.

The rapid increase in log exports to China and India in recent years has put more pressure on MB reduction (both Japan and Korea fumigate logs after they arrive at the destination port). The Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (STIMBR), an organisation funded by a voluntary levy on MB and phosphine since December 2007, has initiated a number of projects to enhance market access while reducing MB use and release into the atmosphere. These include:

  • MB recapture,
  • port monitoring,
  • identifying alternative fumigants and
  • promoting in-transit phosphine fumigation.

To promote phosphine use, Dr Wei-Young Wang has been involved in organising a series of container log fumigation trials to demonstrate the efficacy of phosphine as an in-transit log fumigant so it can be accepted by the Indian government as an alternative fumigant in the near future. For more information please contact us or visit STIMBR website.

Methyl bromide recapturing facility used at Nelson port for fumigating export timber in sea containers.