Ozone, uh oh: Fumigator roasted for spraying pesticide at fruit market
August 3 2019
A fumigation company at Melbourne’s fruit and vegetable wholesale market has been ordered to stop releasing a gas it sprays to deter pests because it depletes the ozone layer.
It’s the first time the Environment Protection Authority has issued a pollution abatement notice for methyl bromide, a colourless and odourless gas often used to control insects, spiders, mites, snails and rodents.
Madiklumi Pty Ltd – the company whacked with the clean-up edict at the Epping markets – challenged the decision. However, it was recently upheld in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The environment watchdog used powers that stem from the United Nations Montreal Protocol, an international agreement first signed in 1989 to prevent the hole in the ozone layer from getting bigger.
Methyl bromide has been banned in Australia for all but certified quarantine and feedstock uses since 2005.
Sitting in the stratosphere between 15 and 35 kilometres above earth, the ozone layer filters out harmful ultraviolet light that causes skin cancer, agricultural disasters and other damage. The Montreal Protocol is credited with reversing its degradation.
After receiving a tip-off, the EPA discovered in late 2017 that Robinson’s Unloading, a logistics company connected to Madiklumi, was releasing diluted methyl bromide into the atmosphere after it had finished fumigating.
Under the VCAT order, Madiklumi was given until next February to stop. The company will also be required to provide regular reports on its compliance.
The tribunal heard that the most effective way to prevent the release of methyl bromide was to recapture it and then bury it in landfill.
Lawyers for Madiklumi argued that this would have a significant financial impact on the fumigation company, starting with a capital outlay of between $70,000-$100,000.
However, VCAT senior member Geoffrey Code and member Catherine Wilson rejected the argument, pointing out that other fumigators were able to continue operating while capturing methyl bromide.
The EPA’s CEO, Dr Cathy Wilkinson, praised the tribunal for sending “a clear message” to businesses that protection of the environment was more important than financial considerations.
“Methyl bromide is a necessary evil for many fresh produce operators, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon all environmental considerations, especially when there are viable options available for reducing its impact,” she said.
Russell Kennedy principal Stefan Fiedler said Madiklumi was disappointed with the tribunal’s decision.
“Madiklumi estimates the requirement will increase the cost of fumigation for consignment of fresh produce for distribution predominantly to the interstate domestic market and also overseas,” he said.
Mr Fiedler said the company would work to comply with the decision. It was important that other fumigators had the same standard imposed on them to prevent “market distortion”, he said.
“Madiklumi will continue its work alongside leading industry partners in pursuit of alternative technology avoiding the future use of methyl bromide,” he said.
EPA senior air quality scientist Dr Paul Torre said methyl bromide was a popular method of pest control because it was fast-acting and could be applied across large surfaces.
“But there’s the other side,” he said.
“There are these environmental impacts and that’s why they have been trying to phase this out for a number of years. It’s about finding an alternative.”