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EPA Bans Ship Hold Fumigation - Methyl Bromide Rules Reset

A total ban on methyl bromide fumigation aboard ships is part of a comprehensive suite of new rules imposed by a Decision-making Committee of the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Methyl bromide is a toxic and ozone-depleting substance, which India and China require to be used on logs they receive from New Zealand. It is a biosecurity tool, used internationally to kill pests.

"The EPA’s role in regulating hazardous substances involves carefully balancing environmental, health, economic, and cultural factors," says Dr Chris Hill, General Manager of the EPA’s Hazardous Substances group.

"The decision released today 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.

"Ship hold fumigation will be banned from 1 January 2023. This rule change is significant as the amount of methyl bromide used is much higher than elsewhere, and it is not currently possible to recapture methyl bromide during ship hold fumigation. Therefore, in this setting, the risks to human health and the environment outweigh the benefits."

Stepped increases will apply to the recapture of methyl bromide from containers and covered log stacks, starting from 1 January 2022. This phased approach will be more achievable than a single target, allowing the EPA to ensure that requirements are being met by industry at each stage.

The 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," says Dr Hill.

There will also be larger buffer zones to prevent people from being in the vicinity while the gas is being used. As well, local councils and affected parties, including neighbouring marae and other community facilities, must be notified in advance of fumigation happening.

Revoking the approval for methyl bromide (in other words banning it outright) was not in the scope of this reassessment, but the decision released today sets far more stringent controls on its use.

"While methyl bromide use is being phased out globally, in New Zealand its use increased by 66 percent between 2010 and 2019. We are currently out of step with most other countries which are turning away from this ozone-depleting substance.

"However, the combined controls imposed by this decision will result in methyl bromide emissions being reduced significantly over the next five years. The aim is also to disincentivise the use of this fumigant.

"While the EPA would like to see methyl bromide use phased out as soon as possible, we acknowledge that this is the only biosecurity treatment that some key overseas markets are prepared to accept," says Dr Hill.

The Decision-making Committee is encouraging continued negotiations with international trade partners to reduce and where possible eliminate the use of methyl bromide, and explore acceptance of alternatives.

The committee strongly supports a strategic approach to the reduction of methyl bromide use and acknowledges that recapture is just one of the tools needed to ensure reduction and ultimate elimination of methyl bromide emissions.

The EPA, WorkSafe and local authorities all have responsibilities for compliance, monitoring and enforcement activities relating to methyl bromide.

The Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act requires the EPA to publicly notify its decision no later than 30 working days after the conclusion of the hearing. For this reassessment, the deadline is Wednesday 18 August.

Read more detail on the decision

BACKGROUND

Methyl bromide is a biosecurity tool, permitted for use in quarantine and pre-shipment fumigation. Fumigation of logs and timber exports accounts for 92% of methyl bromide use in New Zealand.

Total log exports were worth $3.61 billion in the year to June 2021, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries. In 2018, 22% of all exported logs were treated with methyl bromide.

In 2010 the EPA’s predecessor, the Environmental Risk Management Authority, set a 10-year deadline for industry to effectively achieve full recapture of methyl bromide. This meant that operators using the fumigant would have to ensure that it was not released into the environment.

However, in 2019 a timber industry group Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (STIMBR) applied to the EPA for a reassessment of methyl bromide on the basis that full recapture was unachievable with current technology.

Public consultation began in mid-2019, and a hearing was held in August 2020. All documents relating to the modified reassessment, including submissions, are available on the EPA’s website.

Given that the 2010 recapture definition is currently unachievable, the Decision-making Committee has amended the controls associated with recapture so that any risks associated with the use of methyl bromide are negligible, and benefits of use are retained.

The reassessment decision sets a significantly higher recapture performance requirement than requested by the applicant, as the Committee considers that industry must be encouraged to invest in strategies to reduce methyl bromide emissions.

This decision, and its requirements, takes priority over the recapture extensions previously granted by the Decision-making Committee.

The EPA is continuing to assess an application for a potential alternative to methyl bromide, ethanedinitrile (EDN). We have been working through complex technical considerations about its toxicity, safe application, and the residues remaining after fumigation. An updated EPA science memo and staff report on EDN is expected to be made public shortly on the EPA website.

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