Saturday, December 4

EPA extends MB ban by 13 years

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

Stacked logs after an industrial operation.

Stacked logs after an industrial operation.
Photo: RNZ / File photo

In October 2010, the predecessor of the Environmental Protection Authority gave the industry 10 years to put technology in place to fully recover methyl bromide.

Under pressure from industry, the agency has repeatedly granted extensions to the term that would effectively ban the substance, infuriating environmentalists and some who live near ports.

The EPA said it did this so that exporters to India were confident that they could fulfill orders.

Methyl bromide kills insects and other pests. It is pumped under canvas-covered log stacks at the docks, destined for export to India and China, and then released into the air.

The industry said it was impossible to fully recover the gas.

In a decision published today, the Environmental Protection Authority said the amount of gas required to be recaptured will increase in steps, from 30 percent by fumigation starting next year, to 99 percent by 2035.

Starting next year, recapture technology should be used during spraying half the time. The technology will be mandatory from 2025.

Most of the gas use is spraying logs under tarps.

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

The EPA has also banned the use of the substance in the holds of ships beginning in 2023.

International agreements require its elimination.

EPA Hazardous Substances Group CEO Dr. Chris Hill said the decision sets a roadmap for full methyl bromide recovery.

“It provides a clear and structured pathway for industry to reduce the amount of methyl bromide released.

“The decision recognizes the benefits associated with the use of methyl bromide, while protecting human health and the environment.”

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

The use of methyl bromide has more than doubled as log exports increased during the grace period given to the industry to develop reclamation technology.

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

Other measures

The EPA decision also introduces much stricter accountability and reporting measures.

“Operators using MB will be required to provide annual reports to EPA on their activities in greater detail than before to ensure that action is taken to reduce MB emissions.

“This information is in addition to the existing requirements administered by WorkSafe NZ,” said Dr. Hill.

There will also be larger buffer zones to prevent people from being nearby while using the gas.

Municipalities and affected parties, including neighboring marae and other community facilities, must be notified prior to fumigation.

“The goal is also to discourage the use of this fumigant,” Dr. Hill said.

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

EPA continues to evaluate an application for a possible alternative to methyl bromide, ethanedinitrile (EDN).

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

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