Maritime Union, Labour & Greens Call for Action on Methyl Bromide

Press releases were issued this morning by the Maritime Union of New Zealand, and our allies in the Labour and Green Parties. They are reprinted below. 

Maritime Union calls on poisonous ports to stop spewing methyl bromide

The Maritime Union of New Zealand welcomes the decision by Ports of Auckland to stop releasing methyl bromide emissions into the air.

The move to fully recapture the toxic gas after fumigation sets a new benchmark for industry best practice.

Methyl bromide, linked to motor neurone disease and harmful to the ozone layer, is used to kill insects in logs before export.

MUNZ National Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the decision is an example of what publicly owned ports can deliver, if and when they prioritize community interests.

“We will continue the campaign to stop rogue employers exposing people to methyl bromide for another decade if need be,” says Mr Fleetwood.

“Eliminating the risk from our ports and communities will save lives.”

After fumigation is complete the gas can be recaptured and turned into a disposable salt. However, some ports instead release the toxic fumes into our air, endangering workers and nearby communities.

Maritime Union members working in New Zealand ports that use the fumigant have voiced serious concerns, fearing their employers are not taking health and safety seriously around methyl bromide.

In the Port of Tauranga there is a 200 metre buffer zone put in place during cruise ships visits to protect the tourists.

Port workers, by contrast, are expected to conduct ‘normal operations’ as close as five metres away from the toxic gas.

A union member in Tauranga reports being told the logs are “safe enough to lick”.

MUNZ members describe coughing, light headedness and nasal congestion during gas release, despite being told they were out of range and in no danger of exposure.

The union believes unnecessary rivalry between publicly-owned ports is undermining best practice standards, and driving a race to the bottom in the industry.

“The Government must not allow best practice in some ports to be undermined elsewhere,” says Mr Fleetwood.

“If Wellington and Auckland can do the right thing, all ports must.”

The Maritime Union continues to call for a total ban on the use of methyl bromide.

“The regulatory bodies are toothless tigers,” says Mr Fleetwood.

“The government must stop ports releasing this poison into the air, or live with blood on their hands.”

ENDS

Labour: Ports of Auckland decision a win for workers and the environment

MEDIA STATEMENT: 29 May 2017

Ports of Auckland’s decision to no longer release the toxic fumigant methyl bromide into the atmosphere is a win for their workers and for the environment, says Labour’s Spokesperson for Biosecurity Damien O’Connor.

“The intention to move to a full ‘recapture’ system by the end of the year, instead of the current practice of simply venting the gas into the atmosphere, shows leadership and responsibility by Ports management.

“Currently, workers and people living or working near a port using methyl bromide are potentially at risk from breathing the colourless and odourless gas. I’m reminded of the deaths of up to six people from motor neurone disease in Nelson between 2002 and 2005. While the direct link to methyl bromide was inconclusive, it should never have been possible that people were harmed from its use as a fumigant.

“The Maritime Union is justly celebrating this announcement, after more than ten years of campaigning with other groups to improve safety around the use of this dangerous chemical.

“Methyl bromide is also ozone-depleting. We’re becoming more and more conscious of the effects of industry on the environment, and we still have work to do in many areas. Any company that improves its own practice deserves credit.

“Ports of Auckland’s decision will surely put pressure on the remaining ports around New Zealand which still release methyl bromide,” says Damien O’Connor.

ENDS

Greens: Port’s decision a win for workers and environment

The Green Party is applauding the decision by the Ports of Auckland to require total recapture of the toxic gas methyl bromide at the port by the end of the year, and says other ports must now follow suit.

Methyl bromide is used to fumigate logs for export. Exposure to the gas, when it’s not safely recaptured, can pose serious risks to people’s health and contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer.

“We’re really pleased by this decision. The Green Party has been campaigning for years alongside workers, community groups and many others to end the exposure of people to this toxic gas,” said Green Party pesticide spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“Methyl bromide, if inhaled, can have long-term impacts on the brain, and increase the risk of cancers and neurological issues. We shouldn’t be exposing anyone to this stuff.

“Following an Environment Court decision in Tauranga pointing to the non-compliance of the fumigator there, Ports of Auckland is doing the right thing, putting the safety of people and the environment first.

“Other ports need to follow suit. Ports in Napier, Tauranga and Whangarei have very limited recapture going on and that puts people working at the port and living nearby at risk of exposure.

“The Tauranga decision showed that New Zealand is not on track to meet its Montreal Protocol obligation to fully recapture, and reduce the use of, methyl bromide.

“There’s a real need for Government to be more proactive and push the ports to improve recapture. The Government said it would require mandatory recapture by 2020, but that is too late and many ports or log exporters have no plan in place to achieve this,” said Mr Browning.

ENDS

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