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Council Compromising Air Safety Again

11 March 2008

Wellington's Regional Council Compromising Air Safety Again.

Several hundred kilograms of toxic methyl bromide gas were released into Wellington air from Port Wellington late Tuesday, according to the Soil & Health Association. Conditions were wild with a wind of about 50 knots that had tarpaulins meant to contain the gas, flapping and tearing.

Flags and sea spray in the area indicated a potential wind direction towards Queens wharf.

The gas, which is a neurotoxin, and also depletes the ozone layer, was released from under fumigation tarpaulins on 11 log stacks and also possibly from the hold of the log ship IVS Hunter.

"This signifies a huge increase from last month's gas release when just 3 stacks were fumigated, and when the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) misrepresented reality by suggesting all was well by quoting some misleading monitoring results," says Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning. "GWRC must issue an abatement notice instead of allowing persistent and obvious noncompliance."

The GWRC plan prohibits any fumigant at or beyond the boundary of the property.

"It appears that misinformation persists and very crude management of fumigation has occurred again."

"Late this afternoon (Tuesday) I was called by the GWRC Environment Management Divisional Manager to let me know that the Port had just notified to say that due to the high winds the gas covers would remain on until Wednesday or Thursday. By 7 pm tonight (Tuesday) there were only remnants of damaged covers on the logs and all others were neatly rolled up. Effectively, while I was being called the covers were being removed. What sort of consultation is that?"

Lighter and more predictable winds were due Wednesday morning ahead of a lighter southerly change.

"GWRC, port company CentrePort, fumigating company Genera and the Department of Labour have organised an increase in monitoring methods in an endeavour to ensure the safety of the release of the gas. However, methyl bromide is one of the more harmful poisons known to humankind, and it can never be safe unless it is recovered from the fumigation facility."

"All the gas released today would have swirled its way beyond the boundary without doubt and it will be interesting to get the monitoring data from the agencies involved."

"Air monitoring at the Port does not equal air modelling. Air modelling could actually guide where monitoring should take place, but will actually indicate that fumigation cannot proceed unless the gas is captured after use."

Failure to detect the gas at ground or near ground level at port boundaries does not constitute compliance, and GWRC knows full well that the gas doesn't disappear instantly or go directly up to where it will ultimately damage the ozone layer. Depending on conditions such as inversion layers, breeze, humidity and temperature, the gas could be drifting, swirling anywhere. "

"Will the GWRC serve an abatement notice on the activity if by chance they were so fortunate to get a whiff of the toxic fumigant at the Port boundary? Were they monitoring or did fumigator Genera just rip the covers off again without actually monitoring? It will be a good test of the integrity of the Regional Plan and council processes," says Mr Browning.

"While Soil & Health is pleased to hear that the Port's fumigation code of practice has been improved by not allowing gas release while cruise liners are moored alongside, CentrePort has yet to make that Code of Practice publicly available. We are absolutely sure that no credible Code of Practice was complied with in today's conditions."

"Fumigation in the centre of coastal cities is a relic of urban development surrounding ports that began in the days of sailing ships before the use of large volume super toxic synthetic pesticides on logs. Modern ships are welcome but not modern yet primitive phytosanitary practices that disregard human and environmental safety."

"This log fumigation in Wellington should be stopped immediately."

Soil & Health is committed to genuine sustainability, healthy people and an organic 2020.

NOTES:

Soil & Health has previously raised the issue of fumigation with methyl bromide gas at the Port, adjacent to Wellington's Waterloo Quay and the Stadium, and very close to ferries, schools and university, railway station, Parliament buildings and business district. The toxic fumigant gas is released into the air in large quantities from under tarpaulins after hours of log fumigation.

Methyl bromide (CH3Br) is an odourless, colourless gas, used as a pre-shipment (QPS) fumigant pesticide that kills all pests, and is extremely toxic to humans.

Human exposure to methyl bromide has potentially serious acute impacts on the central nervous system and internal organs that can be fatal, with a range of neurological effects associated with chronic exposure.

ENDS

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