The Maritime Union of New Zealand says that new research on methyl bromide gas at the University of Canterbury is vital to ensuring workers and local residents are not at risk from the use of the toxic fumigant.
Maritime Union General Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the early reports of a possible link between methyl bromide and nerve damage, while not surprising, should make it clear that use of methyl bromide must be immediately stopped while further research is carried out.
While researchers at Canterbury University are in the early stages of examining links, 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.
Mr Fleetwood says while the Union is very happy with the initiative of Dr Shaw and the University of Canterbury, it wants to know why the Government and its responsible agencies did not act to have methyl bromide thoroughly investigated when these concerns were raised in the past.
“If there is any suggestion that lack of safeguards by employers or state agencies has resulted in preventable harm, then the Maritime Union will be considering legal action.”
One of the biggest uses of methyl bromide is to fumigate logs in New Zealand ports and on ships, and waterfront workers and seafarers who were members of the Maritime Union often worked nearby.
Four port workers in Nelson died of degenerative motor neuron disease between 2002 and 2004 and there have been ongoing concerns that methyl bromide was a common factor, despite a report from the Nelson Medical Officer of Health that found no link.
The Maritime Union has argued for several years that methyl bromide use should be stopped, along with the Council of Trade Unions and the Green Party.
Mr Fleetwood says that the Union would like to see the research continue and did not want political pressures to disrupt scientific inquiry.
He says that if there is any doubt whatsoever that methyl bromide could be harming workers, then its use must be stopped, and the upcoming ERMA review should be extended to take account of any new findings.
For more information, contact Maritime Union General Secretary Joe Fleetwood on 021364649