NZ unions call for methyl bromide ban

by 05 Feb 2010

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has called for a ban on the fumigation gas methyl bromide following a scientist's claim he may have found a link between it and a nerve disease thought to have caused the deaths of four workers in the country.

New Zealand's Canterbury University researcher and toxicologist Dr Ian Shaw has flagged early findings of his research into the gas which showed that when it was mixed with glutathione, a natural defence found in human cells, that there was a reaction.

Shaw has yet to prove that glutathione levels decrease when the chemicals are mixed, however, he told New Zealand newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, that if his hypothesis is correct, the glutathione levels should decrease, thereby reducing a person's defences to the gas after repeated exposure.

New Zealand's Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) is part way through a reassessment of methyl bromide and expects to hand down a decision by mid to late 2010. However, Shaw told the NZ Herald he does not expect to meet the deadline for submissions, due in late February.

The ERMA has pointed out that the chemical is required for the export of logs to Australia, India and the Far East. Australia itself restricts its in-country use to critical applications, such as the rice and cut flower industries and strawberry runner growers (source required). It also hopes to phase out the use of the chemical by 2010.

“Four of New Zealand’s five major importers of whole logs - China, Japan, Malaysia and Korea - will officially accept timber fumigated with phosphine," said CTU president Helen Kelly, "so why are we still exposing our workers to this potentially deadly poison?"