Maritime Union backs calls for Methyl Bromide inquiry

The Maritime Union is supporting calls for an inquiry into the toxic gas Methyl Bromide, used as a timber fumigant in New Zealand ports.

A group of Nelson widows has called for the inquiry after six former port workers contracted the rare and fatal motor neurone disease, which has already led to the deaths of five.

Maritime Union General Secretary Trevor Hanson says that waterfront workers have concerns about the gas as they work in confined spaces with it.

One incident that occurred in 1999 led to workers being hospitalized after exposure to the gas.

Mr Hanson says that the Nelson Medical Officer of Health and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) should investigate whether the cases of motor neurone disease are linked to Methyl Bromide poisoning.

The Maritime Union says that precautionary blood testing of workers is another useful step, but the Union would like to workers to have the ability to self-test toxicity levels when they are working with fumigated timber.

Concerns about methyl bromide leaching from timber loaded onto ships also had to be addressed by independent tests.

Mr Hanson says he agrees with reported comments by Port Nelson environmental consultative committee member Rachel Reese that the Government should fund a multi-agency investigation into the use of Methyl Bromide.

“Methyl Bromide is a toxic gas and we are concerned about anecdotal evidence that in the past there has been a too relaxed attitude towards its use around workers.”

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