2010 August: Altona (Vic) Log Fumigation. Pesticide: Methyl Bromide.

Residents angry at lethal poison in suburb

August 5, 2010 The Age

Residents are alarmed that a lethal gas is being used to fumigate logs from the Black Saturday bushfires about 200 metres from Altona homes.

The site is less than a kilometre from Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s house and Altona College.

Viking Express Transport has sub-contracted Footscray-based Container Fumigation Services (CFS) to treat logs destined for China with methyl bromide. The toxic gas has been banned in other countries and parts of Australia. New Zealand’s maritime union became part of a coalition against the use of methyl bromide after six port workers died from motor neurone disease.

Viking has applied for a permit from Hobsons Bay Council to establish a permanent freight terminal for the storage and loading of logs at 441-459 Kororoit Creek Road.

Viking general manager Michael Duckworth said the fumigation had nothing to do with him and directed us to talk to CFS.

A CFS representative said yesterday he had been instructed not to talk to Fairfax.

Concerned resident and business owner Jarrod Crowley said he had strong reservations about the use of methyl bromide. “The research I’ve done [indicates] it’s a carcinogen,” he said. “It causes cancer, birth defects. I’m worried that they’re importing and exporting containers using methyl bromide without a permit.

“The concern is that methyl bromide, as a liquid, shouldn’t be used 150 metres or so from homes, but when it’s a fumigant it’s an aerosol, so it’s air-based and travels a lot further.

“A lot of countries around the world and, in particular, in parts of Australia have now banned it because it’s not allowed to be used within two kilometres of homes.”

Another resident, Raymond Ross, said his daughter and her friends had reported seeing what they thought was green mould on the ground.

They play on the vast tract of land near the logs being fumigated.

“I class it as our backyard,” Mr Ross said. “It’s been our backyard for four years and the kids come over here and play. My daughter . . . thought it was mould, but it’s actually green stuff from over there. “

Resident Jenny Dybalo said she was upset that Viking did not mention the fumigation in its planning permit. “They’ve suggested they’re going to be a transport industry and in fact they’re not.”

Hobsons Bay deputy mayor Tony Briffa said he strongly opposed Viking’s permit application.

“Methyl bromide has been banned across the European Union. It’s not only bad for people’s health, but also it’s bad for the ozone, bad for the environment.

“If this is one of the Chinese government’s requirements to fumigate these logs with methyl bromide, they can ship these logs as they are to Chinese waters and fumigate them there. New Zealand also exports logs to China, but in their case they fumigate the logs in containers at sea. I believe we should insist on the same process.”

Last Friday, the council applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an enforcement order to immediately stop Viking from continuing to fumigate logs at Altona.

Cr Briffa is planning to write to Victoria’s chief health officer John Carnie, Health Minister Daniel Andrews, Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings and Altona MP Jill Hennessy requesting their intervention.

Cr Briffa said he would also seek the council’s backing to write to Ms Gillard and relevant federal ministers seeking a review of the use of methyl bromide and the possibility of banning the chemical.