18 Aug 2021

EPA decision allows for at least 13 more years of methyl bromide use

4:59 pm on 18 August 2021

The environment watchdog has given timber exporters 13 more years to completely stop releasing a toxic and significantly ozone-depleting fumigant gas into the atmosphere.

Logs stacked after an industry operation.

Logs stacked after an industry operation. Photo: RNZ / Stock Photo

In October 2010, the Environmental Protection Authority's predecessor gave the industry a 10-year deadline to get the tech in place to fully recapture methyl bromide.

Under pressure from industry, the agency has repeatedly granted extensions to the deadline which would effectively ban the substance - infuriating environmentalists and some living near near ports.

The EPA said it did this so exporters to India had certainty they could fulfill orders.

Methyl bromide kills insects and other pests. It is pumped under tarpaulin-covered stacks of logs on wharves - bound for export to India and China - then released into the air.

Industry said it was impossible to fully recapture the gas.

In a decision released today the Environmental Protection Authority said the amount of the gas required to be recaptured from log-stack fumigations will increase in steps, going from an annual average of 55 percent per site next year to 99 percent by 2033.

From next year, recapture technology must be used during fumigations half the time. The technology will become mandatory from 2025.

The majority of the use of the gas is to fumigate logs under tarps.

By 2023, 80 percent of the gas used in containers must be recaptured, moving to 99 percent by 2031.

The EPA has also banned the use of the substance in ship holds from 2023.

International agreements require it to be phased out.

EPA hazardous substances group general manager Dr Chris Hill said 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."

India and China require the gas to be used on logs they receive from New Zealand

Methyl bromide use has more than doubled as log exports grew during the grace period given to industry to work out the recapture technology.

It went from 245 tonnes in 2006 to 663 tonnes in 2018.

Other measures

The EPA 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," Dr Hill said.

There will also be larger buffer zones to prevent people from being in the vicinity while the gas is being used.

Local councils and affected parties, including neighbouring marae and other community facilities, must be notified in advance of fumigation happening.

"The aim is also to disincentivise the use of this fumigant," Dr Hill said.

In 2018, 22 percent of all exported logs were treated with methyl bromide.

The EPA is continuing to assess an application for a potential alternative to methyl bromide, ethanedinitrile (EDN).

Three-quarters of a billion dollars worth of export logs were treated with methyl bromide in 2019, about a quarter of the total amount sent abroad.

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