The EPA is calling for a total ban on the ozone-depleting gas, methyl bromide, which is used increasingly in New Zealand to kill pests from trade cargo
Methyl bromide is a toxic and ozone-depleting substance, which India and China require to be used on logs they receive from New Zealand. It is a biosecurity tool, used internationally to kill pests.
A total ban on methyl bromide fumigation aboard ships is part of a comprehensive suite of new rules imposed by a Decision-making Committee of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).
“The EPA’s role in regulating hazardous substances involves carefully balancing environmental, health, economic, and cultural factors,” says Dr Chris Hill, General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances group.
“The decision sets a roadmap to full recapture of methyl bromide. It provides a clear and structured pathway for industry to reduce the amount of methyl bromide emitted. The decision recognises the benefits associated with methyl bromide use, while also protecting human health and the environment.
“Ship hold fumigation will be banned from 1 January 2023. This rule change is significant as the amount of methyl bromide used is much higher than elsewhere, and it is not currently possible to recapture methyl bromide during ship hold fumigation. Therefore, in this setting, the risks to human health and the environment outweigh the benefits.”
Stepped increases will apply to the recapture of methyl bromide from containers and covered log stacks, starting from 1 January 2022. This phased approach will be more achievable than a single target, allowing the EPA to ensure that requirements are being met by industry at each stage.
The decision also introduces much stricter accountability and reporting measures.
“Operators using methyl bromide will be required to provide annual reports to the EPA about their activities in greater detail than before, to ensure actions are being taken to reduce methyl bromide emissions. This information is additional to the existing requirements administered by WorkSafe NZ,” says Hill.
There will also be larger buffer zones to prevent people from being in the vicinity while the gas is being used. As well, local councils and affected parties, including neighbouring marae and other community facilities, must be notified in advance of fumigation happening.
Revoking the approval for methyl bromide (in other words banning it outright) was not in the scope of this reassessment, but the decision released today sets far more stringent controls on its use.
“While methyl bromide use is being phased out globally, in New Zealand its use increased by 66 percent between 2010 and 2019. We are currently out of step with most other countries which are turning away from this ozone-depleting substance.
“However, the combined controls imposed by this decision will result in methyl bromide emissions being reduced significantly over the next five years. The aim is also to disincentivise the use of this fumigant.
“While the EPA would like to see methyl bromide use phased out as soon as possible, we acknowledge that this is the only biosecurity treatment that some key overseas markets are prepared to accept,” says Dr Hill.
The Decision-making Committee is encouraging continued negotiations with international trade partners to reduce and where possible eliminate the use of methyl bromide, and explore acceptance of alternatives.
The committee strongly supports a strategic approach to the reduction of methyl bromide use and acknowledges that recapture is just one of the tools needed to ensure reduction and ultimate elimination of methyl bromide emissions.
The EPA, WorkSafe and local authorities all have responsibilities for compliance, monitoring and enforcement activities relating to methyl bromide.
The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act requires the EPA to publicly notify its decision no later than 30 working days after the conclusion of the hearing. For this reassessment, the deadline was Wednesday 18 August.