2014 November: Timber Fumigation Sandford (NSW). Pesticide: Methyl Bromide

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Timber exporter Crawfords Freightlines fuming after EPA ban on methyl bromide

A Sandgate company has had its timber exporting operation shut down by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) over its use of a fumigant. Source: The Herald.

The company, Crawfords Freightlines, has hit back at the EPA, saying the state government’s forestry department supplied the plantation-grown timber and was fully aware of the operation.

Managing director Peter Crawford said the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service signed off on every load.

The EPA swung into action over a leaflet printed by a ‘‘concerned resident’’ that called for ‘‘urgent action’’ over the use of methyl bromide, an ‘‘ozone depleting’’ fumigant that is being phased out of use in Australia.

It is toxic to humans and is regarded as dangerous, even at low levels of exposure.

Crawford said the company had been treating state forests timber for export to China for the past four years, with the fumigant pumped into sealed shipping containers.

He said the fumigators were suited and masked with a 50-metre exclusion zone around the job, which was done at night when possible.

He conceded, though, that the leftover methyl bromide was released to the atmosphere afterwards.

Ironically, Crawfords Freightlines began fumigating at Sandgate after the Newcastle Herald revealed concerns in 2010 about the way the timber was being fumigated en route to China by another company ‘‘under tarpaulins’’ on Dyke Point at Carrington.

Crawford said the EPA had inspected the business on Friday and left after issuing a ‘‘notice of prevention’’, ordering the company to immediately cease all fumigation activities at the premises.

The company had complied with the notice, but the way the EPA had handled the matter meant that at least 100 jobs were threatened.

He said Crawfords Freightlines processed about 60 to 80 containers of timber a week and everyone from timber cutters through to truck drivers, yard hands, fumigators and train crews would have no work in the short term.

He said there would be ‘‘wider ramifications if this issue is not resolved quickly’’.

‘‘Given the other government agencies were well aware of what was being done, it would be good if the EPA would arrive at some interim measure to allow us to carry on while the broader issues were settled,’’ Crawford said.

If any regulations were being breached the company had not done so knowingly, he said, but the EPA had said ‘‘ignorance is no excuse’’.

EPA director Gary Davey said the amount of methyl bromide being used at Crawfords Freightlines appeared to be ‘‘above the scheduled threshold’’, meaning it needed an Environmental Protection Licence for the activity.

‘‘The EPA is working with Crawfords Freightlines and Forest Corp NSW in an effort to minimise impacts on the industry arising from this matter,’’ Davey said.