2 Feb 2011

Methyl bromide recapture 'should be priority'

1:37 pm on 2 February 2011

Opponents of the use of methyl bromide for treating log and timber exports say recapturing the gas to prevent its release into the atmosphere should be the priority in a newly announced research programme.

The Government is contributing half of the cost of the $2.5 million programme, spread over five years, which aims to find ways of reducing and eventually replacing methyl bromide as a fumigant.

The highly toxic chemical is being phased out internationally because it's an ozone-depleting substance which has also been linked to cancer and other diseases.

The Soil and Health Association is highly critical of the small amount of funding and the lack of urgency in the research timetable, which it says ignores the continuing health risks from using the chemical.

It says finding alternatives to methyl bromide is the best solution, but the immediate focus should be on recaptuing the gas to prevent its escape into the environment.

However Gordon Hosking, who chairs the methyl bromide reduction stake-holders' group, says that's part of the research programme.

A small scale commercial system for recapturing the gas onto activated charcoal, and there are problems, as disposal of the charcoal is an issue, he says.

The programme aims to look at whether there are other ways to recapture the fumigant.

Soil and Health spokesperson Steffan Browning says there needs to be a lot more urgency in that work.

Mr Hosking says in the longer term, it may be possible to design pest management systems that avoid fumigation altogether, an option that the Soil and Health Association supports.