The Maritime Union of New Zealand has welcomed the decision by Ports of Auckland to stop releasing methyl bromide emissions into the air.
Methyl bromide, linked to motor neurone disease and harmful to the ozone layer, is used to kill insects in logs before export. After fumigation is complete the colorless and odorless gas can be recaptured and turned into a disposable salt. However, some ports instead release the toxic fumes into the air.
The move to fully recapture the toxic gas after fumigation sets a new benchmark for industry best practice, says the Union. National Secretary Joe Fleetwood says the decision is an example of what publicly owned ports can deliver, if and when they prioritize community interests.”
Union members working in New Zealand ports that use the fumigant have voiced serious concerns, fearing their employers are not taking health and safety seriously around methyl bromide.
In the Port of Tauranga there is a 200-meter buffer zone put in place during cruise ships visits to protect the tourists. Port workers, by contrast, are expected to conduct normal operations as close as five meters away from the toxic gas.
A union member in Tauranga reports being told the logs are “safe enough to lick.” However, Union members describe coughing, light headedness and nasal congestion during gas release, despite being told they were out of range and in no danger of exposure.
The Union believes unnecessary rivalry between publicly-owned ports is undermining best practice standards, and driving a race to the bottom in the industry. “The Government must not allow best practice in some ports to be undermined elsewhere,” says Fleetwood. “If Wellington and Auckland can do the right thing, all ports must.”
The Maritime Union continues to call for a total ban on the use of methyl bromide.