BayBuzz first raised concern about methyl bromide, a highly toxic chemical used to fumigate logs before export from Napier Port (and other NZ ports) in this December 2010 article (which otherwise commended the Port for a job well done).

The fumigant is used to kill insects and pests on logs exported to China and others. Apart from being toxic to humans, it depletes ozone, which has led to an international convention aimed at eliminating its use.

Since then, we have periodically prodded Port management and Directors about ending its use.

Finally, eleven years later, Napier Port will do so.

Most recently we raised the matter last February, inquiring into the current extent of the practice at Napier Port, receiving this response (in part):

“Fumigators are licensed through the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and WorkSafe (within MBIE) and we expect any company exporting cargo via Napier Port conducts its commercial practices in line with the accepted practises and laws of the NZ Government in accordance with the HSNO Act and associated Codes of Practice (COPs).

“On port, a range of safety measures are implemented by the fumigating company, including a dedicated fumigation area at the northern end of the port’s breakwater, well away from the landside boundary/public, coverings, PPE, monitored buffer zones and signage. Each instance of fumigation is managed by a certified, approved handler from the fumigating company who presents risk management plans to all stakeholders in advance, of which Napier Port is one. Annual approval is also required by FENZ.

“We are working closely  with forest exporters to work towards a solution that sees use cease at Napier Port once the government moratorium comes into effect from August this year.”

We read this as a ‘not our job’ cop-out, with no information provided on the extent of the practice at Napier Port. But we were assured that the “commercially sensitive” matter was being worked on.

Treatment of logs has been a requirement of our overseas customers. Many other countries have already banned the use of this deadly fumigant, but NZ has dragged its feet, extending the time for other approaches to be adopted, with the logging industry insisting it had no viable alternatives.

As they noted above, the Port itself does not perform the fumigation. This process is carried out by specialised contractors hired by the log exporters. Mishandled, and with an ill-wind, release of the chemical into the air could be deadly for anyone coming into contact with the vapours, including nearby residents. Fortunately, there has no such incident at Napier Port. However, claims of this sort have been made elsewhere in NZ.

Although not itself ‘hands-on’, the Port has acceded to methyl bromide’s use, accepting the risk along with the lucrative business. Logs accounted for 2.2 million tonnes of Napier Port’s exports in the nine months of the fiscal year most recently reported (i.e., through June), with the most recent quarter the highest on record. In short, the Port’s most important business.

But finally Napier Port will cease methyl bromide use effective 1 January 2022, saying: “It has been Napier Port’s long-standing intention to end methyl bromide fumigation once a feasible alternative is available. While we have always implemented a range of measures to ensure safe use, the best option is an alternative to fumigation. We have worked hard with customers and others on port and are committed to pursuing debarking at Napier Port from December 2021.”

Indeed, the practice might end sooner “if no longer required due to the commencement of a viable phytosanitary debarking solution being made available for exporters’ use either on port, or in close proximity to Napier Port”.

Better late than never. Thank you Napier Port.

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