The Maritime Union of New Zealand has spoken out against this week’s decision by environment agency ERMA to allow the continued use of methyl bromide as a fumigant.
New regulations will require methyl bromide fumigations to be recaptured within 10 years, and more research into alternatives and recapture be undertaken.
The approvals for methyl bromide used to fumigate soil have been revoked, but use for quarantine and pre-shipment treatment of goods such as logs will still be allowed.
Maritime Union General Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the union wants the toxic gas phased out very quickly in all commercial settings.
He says ERMA claims that it has introduced strict controls, but the strict control the union wanted to see was the end of methyl bromide use in New Zealand ports.
“It seems the logic is that methyl bromide is toxic, bad for the environment and bad for people, but is financially good for some exporters.”
Mr Fleetwood says a few barrels of methyl bromide rolled into shareholder meetings would no doubt be considered unacceptable by those present, but maritime workers on the waterfront were expected to carry on and hope for the best.
“The question must be asked, if in ten years time further research shows that the risks of methyl bromide have been greater than expected, who is responsible for any illness or deaths, and will the Government, port companies and commercial users of methyl bromide be held responsible in this event?”
“The benefits to our export markets probably won’t mean much to anyone who has been poisoned by this stuff.”
There was some question as to why it was felt necessary to end use of methyl bromide for agricultural purposes, but allow its use to be continued in ports, he says.
“It’s either bad for people and the environment, or not. If it is a hazard, why are we allowing its use to continue?”
Mr Fleetwood says the Union has been active in opposing the use of methyl bromide for some years.
The Maritime Union had been in contact with toxicology experts who were researching possible links between methyl bromide and health problems.
He says a number of incidents with the gas over the years, added to the continuing debate about whether methyl bromide may have been a factor in the cases of motor neuron disease in Nelson port workers, made the Union concerned about the response from Government and regulators.
The Union also had concerns about the influence of industry groups in past years on decision making about methyl bromide.
The Maritime Union would continue to press for methyl bromide to be phased out as quickly as possible.