EPA approves methyl bromide reassessment

An application to decide whether grounds exist for a reassessment of the controversial timber and log fumigant methyl bromide has been approved by an Environmental Protection Authority decision-making committee last month.

Methyl bromide, an extremely toxic and ozone-depleting substance, is used to disinfest logs and timber products destined for export as part of quarantine and pre-shipment importing requirements.

“The application was made by industry group Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction Inc – known as STIMBR – in part because New Zealand’s use of the fumigant has increased from more than 400 tonnes a year in 2010 to more than 600 tonnes in 2016,” says EPA’s Hazardous Substances Group general manager Dr Fiona Thomson-Carter.

“A significant change in quantity imported and manufactured is one of the criteria under which an applicant can apply for grounds for reassessment under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act. 

“During that time extensive industry research has also been undertaken and this new information may have an impact on the current controls, or rules, around its use if a reassessment is carried out,” says Fiona.

Recapture technology (sidehead)

Methyl Bromide is controlled under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and Ozone Layer Protection Regulations. Its use for anything other than quarantine or pre-shipment purposes was phased out in 2005.

Following its 2010 reassessment, the EPA ruled that users would need to ensure recapture technology was in place by 2020 to collect and store the used gas, preventing its spread into the atmosphere.

In granting the approval in April, the decision-making committee said it had not reviewed the current controls, including recapture, but that these should be considered if any follow-up application is made to begin the reassessment process.

Any external party may now apply for reassessment. Details on how to do this are at: www.epa.govt.nz/industry-areas/hazardous-substances/reassessments-and-reviews

To read the grounds for reassessment application and decision, see: www.epa.govt.nz

The EPA and WorkSafe continue to work with industry on the use of methyl bromide and controls currently in place.

An alternative (sidehead)

However, in a separate undertaking the EPA is considering the application for use of a possible alternative to methyl bromide.

In late-February it was revealed the EPA had just released application details for approval of ethanedinitrile – or EDN – as a fumigant for log and timber exports.

STIMBR chair Don Hammond says approval by the EPA is the critical first step into its use in New Zealand to ensure log exports are free of pests the importing countries don’t want.

“Over the past seven years STIMBR and our co-funding partners, including the NZ government, have invested more than $22 million in research on alternatives to methyl bromide, as well as ways to reduce the amounts that need to be used, along with recapture and destruction technologies.”

He says an extensive review of scientific literature commissioned by STIMBR in 2014 found only one promising fumigant alternative to methyl bromide.

“Plant and Food Research confirmed EDN is an effective phytosanitary treatment for insects which might be found on our logs.”

“There are clear advantages of EDN over methyl bromide. EDN has no effect on the ozone layer. It is not a greenhouse gas. It does not bioaccumulate because it breaks down rapidly in the environment without leaving harmful residues in the soil or in water,” says Don.

EDN is currently manufactured by Draslovka a family-owned company based in the Czech Republic. During the last three years Don says Draslovka has made significant investment to develop EDN into a commercially-viable and environmentally-sustainable alternative to methyl bromide for use globally as a soil and commodity treatment.

Clear priority (sidehead)

The NZ Forest Owners Association president Peter Clark says while EPA approval is a vital first step that doesn’t mean importing countries will automatically accept its use.

“We are confident that, with the huge wealth of positive data on EDN, that EPA will give it approval. The process of assuring other countries that EDN is both effective and safe to use, must also be undertaken as a government priority.”

“Though the value of log exports is less than half of the value of our total timber exports, 71 per cent of our logs go to China, and presently methyl bromide treatment is an important component of that trade,” says Peter.

“Further, all logs going to India require methyl bromide treatment. Resolving this issue is a clear priority for our industry.”

According to 2015 data, New Zealand is the world’s fifth-highest user of methyl bromide.

In 2010 the EPA announced that by 2020 methyl bromide fumigations for logs must use recapture technology to reduce the amount discharged into the atmosphere.

The EPA’s submission period for the EDN application closed April 19.


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