Methyl Bromide Concerns

Nelson, New Zealand Methyl Bromide Concerns:

07.01.05 1.00pm

Methyl bromide gas has been used in more than 220 fumigations at Port Nelson in the past 12 months alone, newly- released figures from Nelson Public Health Service. The service also revealed yesterday that it considered prosecuting a fumigation company that no longer operates and issued several formal warnings after incidents involving the toxic greenhouse gas at the port in the past several years. No further details were immediately available on these cases. The figures come amid mounting public concern at methyl bromide’s use around Port Nelson.

A group of Nelson widows claim exposure to the gas might be linked to the deaths of their husbands, all of whom died from a rare degenerative brain disease — motor neurone disease — after working for years at the port. One of the women, Sue Lindsay, said she was “absolutely horrified” at the number of methyl bromide fumigations taking place in the vicinity of port workers. “When they let the gas out it goes everywhere.” Senior health protection officer Geoff Cameron said two Nelson-based fumigation companies were licensed to use methyl bromide.

In 2004, Nelson Pest Control Services performed 109 container fumigations and three “other” fumigations at the port; another company, Genera, performed 62 container fumigations and 48 timber fumigations, a total of 222 events. NPCS also performed six other container fumigations at Riwaka, Motueka and Tahunanui. Fumigation operators are governed by the Fumigation Regulations 1967 and are required to notify public health, fire services and police before using the fumigant.

Mr Cameron said Public Health was responsible for policing the regulations and could pursue prosecutions when operators breached the rules, which he described as “hopelessly outdated”. But this would change on May 1 when methyl bromide fumigation came under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. Enforcement responsibility for workplace fumigation would then fall to Occupational Safety and Health. Mr Cameron said a voluntary code of practice relating to methyl bromide use had been ratified and adopted by all relevant parties.

Port Nelson had also implemented a series of monitoring regimes and safety procedures on its own accord. “That was a recognition that there had to be more controls and more care taken for health and safety reasons around the use of methyl bromide.” Asked if he was satisfied methyl bromide fumigation was now being performed safely at Port Nelson, Mr Cameron said: “These regulations are very outdated, and for me, as soon as they’re updated and come under the control of the (Hazardous Substances Act) the better.”

Campaigners Against Toxic Sprays organiser Claire Gulman said she thought there might have been more fumigations but “even 220 is shocking” when it was being used so close to houses without any warnings to residents. “I think something has to be changed.” Another Nelson widow, Marilyn McKay, said the gas shouldn’t be used anywhere near businesses. “People are working in their daily jobs not even recognising they’re breathing it in.” – NZPA

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