Timber Fumigation - Methyl Bromide

Recent media reports have raised questions about the use and safety of methyl bromide fumigation, an activity that takes place at Northport. We feel that much of this media coverage has been incomplete, and even inaccurate, and has raised more questions than it has provided answers.

We understand why our staff, customers, suppliers and neighbours may have been alarmed by this coverage. So, in an attempt to throw a little light on to the subject and to provide some reassurance, we thought we would publicise some of the facts behind methyl bromide fumigation and its use at Northport.

If, having read this, you have further questions please contact David Finchett at Northport Ltd (09-4325062 / david.finchett@northport.co.nz). We’d be delighted to provide whatever further clarification or reassurance that we can.

 

Fumigation

Northport Limited provides storage and port services for forestry products at the Northport common user facility. Northport does not undertake or provide fumigation services.

The actual fumigation is something that the exporters arrange themselves because they are required to do so by the importing country. Fumigation is undertaken at the Northport facility by a company that specilises in fumigation called Genera Limited.

Fumigation by methyl bromide gas is a legal activity conducted on our site by qualified operators working for Genera. It takes place with our consent, as long as the fumigation company abides by the procedures we have in place to mitigate risk.

Under our Hazardous Substances Consent issued by the Whangarei District Council, Northport is required to have procedures in place to manage the use and control of any hazardous material at the port, including when this use is by any organisation operating at the facility.

For methyl bromide fumigation the procedures outlined in our Port Procedures Guide are based on the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and international requirements. Genera and any other fumigators must follow them.

Northport Ltd does everything we can to check that Genera does so. We do this in conjunction with the EPA, WorkSafe (within MBIE) and Northland DHB, who monitor the technical and health aspects of Genera’s operation at Northport. Together, we check that methyl bromide gas emission levels resulting from fumigation at Northport do not breach those considered safe by the EPA.

To date there have been no recorded breaches.

There are four levels of checks in place to ensure breaches do not take place:
 

1)Internal Genera checks, measurements and record-keeping

2)Random air-sample checks by Northport at the boundary of fumigation operations at the port (different to, and contained within, the wider Northport boundary), using the appropriate, calibrated equipment. These are conducted randomly by Northport every 4-6 weeks when fumigation is taking place

3)Independent auditing and air sampling commissioned by Genera and Northport on an irregular basis

4)Auditing of Genera’s systems, records and processes by WorkSafe

In addition, under the EPA requirements for use of methyl bromide an annual return / report covering a variety of topics must be submitted by Northport to the EPA, the DHB and WorkSafe. This is provided by Northport at the start of each calendar year.

The Ministry of Health determined in 2005 that there is no evidence to indicate that exposure to methyl bromide within the prescribed limits set by the EPA is connected with Motor Neurone Disease or any other health condition.

However, the allegation that methyl bromide increases the risk and incidence of Motor Neurone Disease has certainly captured our attention and is not something we take lightly. We work, live and play near to where it’s used so you can be absolutely certain that in addition to our professional Duty of Care, we take a very strong personal interest in this matter too. 

We trust what the experts tell us. We’re port operators, members of the community and parents, husbands, wives, not scientists.

This does not mean we’re helpless onlookers; we do everything we can to check that Genera operates according to our Port Procedures Guide, the only procedures we are able to monitor and entitled to enforce. As already stated, we do this alongside – and in close collaboration with – the EPA and WorkSafe.

We are able and willing to answer questions about our port procedures for methyl bromide fumigation and monitoring.

However, we are not qualified to answer questions about the safety of emission levels approved by the EPA, or about the process, safety and monitoring of methyl bromide fumigation generally. For this we would direct you to the websites of  the EPA ,  the log exporting companies, Genera, Whangarei District Council or STIMBR – a group representing a wide range of organisations seeking environmentally and socially acceptable alternative phytosanitary treatments to methyl bromide, and/or technologies and tools to manage methyl bromide emissions.

Questions and Answers

How often is the methyl bromide fumigant applied and at what times of the day?

There is no strict routine – it all depends on variables such as when logs/timber is due for shipment, how many vessels are in port, the time of departure of each ship, etc.

Are there any plans for a contained fumigation facility at Northport?

This question would best be directed to log exporters and Genera. Whatever facilities exist will, as they do now, need to comply with EPA controls and Northport procedures, which will always be based on the best available science.

Is Northport 100 percent certain that methyl bromide poses no risks to any human beings or animals living nearby?

We’re port operators, members of the community and parents, husbands, wives, not scientists and we trust what the experts tell us. The Ministry of Health determined in 2005 that there is no evidence to indicate that exposure to methyl bromide within the prescribed limits set by the EPA is connected with motor neurone disease or any other health condition when EPA controls are complied with as they are.

That said, we do everything we can to ensure that Genera operates according to our Port Procedures Guide, the only procedures we are able to monitor. We do this in conjunction with the EPA, WorkSafe and the Northland DHB, who monitor the technical, health and safety aspects of Genera’s operation.

We assure you that there have been no recorded breaches of the EPA safe limit guidelines.

Are logs from other locations in New Zealand fumigated at Northport? If so, where?

Timber and forest products from around NZ are fumigated at the port of departure or during transit. Some logs heading to India from other places in NZ are fumigated inside the holds of the ship while berthed at Northport.

What is the tolerable exposure limit of methyl bromide gas?

The tolerable exposure limit (TEL) is an average 0.333 ppm over any 24 hr period, or an average 0.0013 ppm over a 12-month period. (Page 47 [section 16.5] of the ERMA Decision dated 28 October 2010).

Has any testing been undertaken to see if any methyl bromide gas is reaching residential areas (including Reotahi which is directly opposite the port on release from the tarpaulins or ship’s hold?

No. The closest residential area to the port is Reotahi, some 800m away across the water. If methyl bromide emissions are not detectable at the boundary of Genera’s operation at Northport they would certainly not be detectable at the port boundary – still less in Reotahi.

Our readings tell us that methyl bromide gas - at the concentrations used for fumigation in New Zealand- dissipates to an unmeasurable level within a very short distance of the source. We test 50 meters from source (ie; from logs being fumigated at the facility) and readings are below the tolerable exposure limits set out by the EPA and deemed acceptable by Northland DHB and WorkSafe. So far we have recorded no breaches of the EPA safe limit guidelines.

Then there is the practicality of it. There is no technology available to detect methyl bromide gas independently of other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in operational situations. You would only need a passing truck to be belching out exhaust fumes for a reading to be recorded that would have nothing at all to do with methyl bromide.

So if the Environment Court is concerned about "worrying" levels of the gas at the Port of Tauranga boundary during fumigation, how does this compare to  your claim that methyl bromide gas dissipates to an unmeasurable level within a very short distance of the source?

We can only  focus on what we know – the fumigation operation at Northport. The important thing for us is that our readings, taken at the log storage/buffer zone boundary of fumigation operations at Northport, remain below the tolerable exposure limits set out by the EPA and deemed acceptable by Northland DHB and WorkSafe. That’s where we are focusing our attention.

So should we be concerned about methyl bromide use at Northport?

The EPA tells us that in the concentrations used by Genera, and under the conditions stipulated by the EPA, it’s OK for use. (Page 33 [section 12.4.26] and Page 47 [section 16.5] of the ERMA Decision dated 28 October 2010).

The Agency confirmed to STIMBR by email on 9 February 2017 that “the EPA still considers existing controls for methyl bromide are fit-for-purpose and applicable.”

In terms of monitoring, does Northland Regional Council have a conflict of interest given its indirect stake in Northport Ltd. How does Northport respond to this claim?

Northland Regional Council is not responsible for monitoring methyl bromide gas emissions at Northport. Our Hazardous Substances Consent is issued by the Whangarei District Council and the regulators of the activities described above are the EPA and WorkSafe NZ, both of whom are independent of the local and regional councils.

Additional information

Methyl bromide monitoring – Annual reports to the EPA

http://www.epa.govt.nz/about-us/monitoring/methyl-bromide-reports/Pages/default.aspx

Importing or exporting ozone depleting substances in New Zealand

http://www.epa.govt.nz/hazardous-substances/ozone/Pages/default.aspx