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ERMA Recommends Continued Use of Methyl Bromide

The Environmental Risk Management Authority's (ERMA's) reassessment of methyl bromide is in its final phase. ERMA received 92 submissions and approximately 40% of submitters asked to speak at a hearing.

Methyl bromide is a fumigant used to treat logs exported from New Zealand. It is an odourless, colourless, heavier-than-air gas, used internationally as a broad-spectrum fumigant. It has proved to be a highly effective means of treating timber, agricultural produce, buildings, vessels and containers to eradicate a wide range of pests (including soil-borne fungi, nematodes, weeds, insects, mites and rodents) because of its good penetration and rapid action.

Methyl bromide is an ozone-depleting substance. However its use for quarantine and pre-shipment (QPS) is allowed under the Montreal Protocol (an international response to concern over depletion of the protective ozone layer), ratified by New Zealand in 1987.

The good news is that ERMA recommends the re-approval of the use, in the medium-term, of methyl bromide for quarantine and pre-shipment (QPS) purposes only, with tighter controls. However, this is only a preliminary recommendation. A final decision will be made after consideration of public submissions and evidence provided at public hearings.

In terms of its assessment of human health risks, ERMA concludes that "with controls in place, the risks to operators are low with potential for acute adverse effects on the health of operators only if controls are not adhered to." For "occupational and non-occupational bystanders, the ERMA concludes that, with controls in place, the risks to health are negligible if additional controls (specifically monitoring requirements) are introduced to provide assurance that the risks can be managed safely."

"This is a pleasing result", says Peter Weblin, Marketing Manager for PF Olsen. "At present there are no alternatives to methyl bromide for phytosanitary treatment of logs to India, and no feasible alternatives to using methyl bromide for deck cargos of logs to China. It is a very important component of the New Zealand log export business."