Significant changes afoot in the timber industry

In her role as decision maker with the HSNO Committee with the EPA, Streamlined Environmental Director and Scientist Dr Ngaire Phillips uses her scientific knowledge to contribute to positive and often far-reaching outcomes for the broader community, an opportunity she relishes. She has recently been involved in two nationally-significant applications associated with New Zealand’s timber industry that spanned several years, involved multiple hearings, numerous submissions and complex and challenging science.

Many importing countries require products like logs and timber to be treated (for example, by fumigation or heat treatment) to control quarantine pests. There are a limited number of treatment options available in New Zealand. Methyl bromide is a highly effective fumigant used for treating primary products for export – as well as imported goods – to control quarantine pests. Fumigation of forest products (logs and timber) for export currently accounts for 94% of methyl bromide use in New Zealand. It is the main treatment option for above-deck log exports to China and the only viable option for log exports to India. Fumigation of other export goods and imported goods to manage biosecurity risks account for the remaining 6% of use. However, methyl bromide is also toxic to humans and contributes to ozone depletion.

In their August 2021 decision on the reassessment of methyl bromide, the Decision Making Committee (DMC, of which Dr Phillips was Chair) set in place a clear and structured pathway for the industry to reduce the amount of methyl bromide emitted through significantly greater recapture performance, more efficient fumigation practices and restrictions on use. This pathway also provides incentive for industry to invest in strategies to reduce methyl bromide emissions.

In a more recent decision (April 2022) a Decision Making Committee (of which Dr Phillips was a member) approved an application for the use of an alternative, less toxic fumigant ethylene dinitrile (EDN) on the basis that its benefits are significant, and that adverse effects are negligible with the appropriate control measures. The DMC also accepted the evidence that EDN is the most viable replacement for methyl bromide for treating timber and logs. Worksafe also produced two Safe Work Instruments addressing health and safety requirements for the use of EDN, a relatively new process which increased the complexity of the application for the DMC.

These decisions provide a pathway forward for industry. They are also likely to lead to positive environmental and human health outcomes, through the reduction in methyl bromide emissions, while supporting social and economic benefits associated with the timber industry.

Brown chicken with an egg.
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