The Maritime Union has attacked comments by the group Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (STIMBR) which downplays valid concerns about the use of the poison gas.
Maritime Union of New Zealand General Secretary Joe Fleetwood has condemned a statement from STIMBR (1 February 2010) entitled “Gas links with disease unfounded” that asserts there is no proof that methyl bromide is connected with motor neuron disease.
Mr Fleetwood says there is no proof as yet, but important new research into the health hazards of methyl bromide has detected possible links and there has been criticism of past investigations.
“On the one hand STIMBR is claiming no one knows what causes motor neuron disease, yet the very reason that further research is being done is due to possible links. As responsible employers they should be encouraging any new findings that build on current limited knowledge. STIMBR also quote outdated research in their public statement.”
STIMBR is made up of businesses that have a direct financial interest in the use of methyl bromide, but until recently had Government representation and financial contributions.
Mr Fleetwood says he is very concerned that the Government has until recently been officially represented on what was clearly a partisan organization that appeared motivated by the interests of private businesses, and which had no representation of maritime workers.
“STIMBR is not an industry group, it’s an employers group, managers who sit in offices a safe distance from methyl bromide fumigation. It’s a public relations cookup to portray themselves as reducing methyl bromide when they are the beneficiaries of its use. What Government agencies were doing involved with STIMBR is a major concern and we will be approaching the Government on this matter.”
In the October 2009 STIMBR newsletter (http://www.stimbr.org.nz/STIMBRNewsletter8.pdf), the Chair Gordon Hosking noted that government departments had advised they would no longer be members of STIMBR but would seek observer status due to perceived conflict of interest and “will be discussed further by the management committee.”
The same newsletter lists as its first item under “Specific areas of progress” the achievement of “Protecting methyl bromide use”, which seems an odd area of progress for a group whose name is “Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction”. Are they protecting the use of Methyl Bromide or reducing the use of Methyl Bromide?
A May 2008 newsletter stated STIMBR were “pleased to acknowledge contributions to STIMBR from organisations with a keen interest in methyl bromide reduction, but who are non-users of the fumigant. Noted in our last newsletter were Biosecurity New Zealand, Ministry of Economic Development, Scion, and Crop and Food Research.”
New research is being carried out at Canterbury University where toxicology professor Ian Shaw has been reported as saying a link had been found which involved a reaction when mixing methyl bromide with a protective chemical found in human cells.
Dr Shaw has stated the study by the Nelson Medical Officer of Health should have looked further into the rate of port deaths from motor neuron disease which was many hundreds of times higher than normal.
Mr Fleetwood says that if it is proved in future research there is a link between methyl bromide and motor neuron disease, or any other illness, then the Maritime Union will be involved in any efforts to hold employers, Government and individuals (including STIMBR members) accountable and liable for any harm to workers.