Mount Maunganui residents railed against the continued use of controversial toxic fumigant methyl bromide at the Port of Tauranga in a hearing yesterday.
A committee set up by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is considering an industry request to reassess controls for use of the ozone-depleting substance.
Methyl bromide is mainly used to treat logs and timber for export at ports around New Zealand. It is banned in several countries and controlled by the Montreal Protocol.
A deadline for New Zealand operators to recapture fumigation emissions, set in 2010, will expire in April, extended from October.
The extension allowed for the reassessment requested by Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (STIMBR), a group representing forestry export industry organisations.
It argued it was not feasible to meet the recapture standard, which would effectively ban the fumigant and lead to economic losses in the billions over the next decade.
STIMBR applied to reduce the recapture target and extend the deadline for achieving recapture from ship-hold fumigations by 10 years.
It originally wanted a recapture target of 80 per cent of methyl bromide remaining at the end of fumigations. But on the eve of the hearing, which started on Tuesday, it changed this to 30 per cent for log stacks, which are fumigated under tarps - a method commonly used at the Port of Tauranga.
Methyl bromide use has risen from 400 tonnes in 2010 to 600 tonnes in 2016 in New Zealand.
Tauranga is a major user at 220 tonnes a year, according to a recent Bay of Plenty Regional Council estimate.
Yesterday's submissions were due to be heard in Tauranga, but the hearing was moved fully online after the shift to Covid alert level 2.
The decision-making committee heard concerns about the economic costs to forestry and export industries if standards were not changed, with the loss of key trade markets predicted to lead to losses of jobs and earnings.
It also heard from people worried about the health and other impacts of emissions of methyl bromide, a neuro-toxin, on people who breathe the air on and near ports, especially port workers and the Whareroa Marae and Mount Maunganui communities.
Mount-based submitters including members of Tauranga Moana Fumigant Action Group, Clear the Air Mount Maunganui and Ngāi te Rangi argued for the authority to stick to the existing standard or strengthen controls.
They said STIMBR and Genera had not tried hard enough to find alternatives and improvements to meet the standard by the deadline.
Resident Emma Jones of Clear the Air Mount Maunganui said for the EPA to reduce the standard would reward what was, in her view, "bad, lazy and arrogant corporate behaviour".
"Ten years ago you said something, you have to stick to it."
She said Mount residents were especially concerned about port workers, children and athletes using Blake Park 300m from the fumigation boundary, and people at Whareroa.
"We live it, we see it and we worry about it every day. It's so close to us.
"People are angry, we don't want this happening in our community."
The group postponed a public protest against methyl bromide due to the Covid-19 alert change but had been expecting a big turnout, she said.
Another group of locals opposing the application pitched an alternative to port-based fumigations: Constructing sealed, solar-powered fumigation buildings in Rangiuru, away from residential populations.
Presenters also included Genera - the Tauranga biosecurity company importing methyl bromide - and the regional council, with which Genera has consents currently going through a reconsenting process.
Genera director Mark Dewdney said significant recapture progress had been made since 2010 but he knew of no current technology that could achieve the coming standard.
"We are here today because a control established in 2010 has turned out to be impossible to achieve," he said.
The change in target from 80 to 30 per cent - made on advice from Genera - reflected the range of recapture possible for log stacks.
The higher target had been achieved but not consistently, averaging 50 to 60 per cent for stacks, so the lower target was more realistic.
The company wanted a "continuous improvement" strategy, covering "real world" mitigations to gradually reduce methyl bromide use.
Some measures suggested - such as convincing India to accept logs treated with a different fumigant, a reduction of 100-150 tonnes of methyl bromide a year - were outside of Genera's control so improvements would take a joint effort with other stakeholders.
Mark Bendall, director of log export company Tenco, spoke in support of STIMBR's application, saying removing methyl bromide would shut Kiwi businesses out of overseas trade markets that required it, leading to businesses folding.
He said the impact on forestry would be similar to that seen after Covid-19.
The regional council, meanwhile, called for tighter controls, better monitoring and more ambitious targets for reducing methyl bromide than those proposed.
Sam Weiss, from the council's regulatory team, said the Bay was the only region in New Zealand where consent was required and the only place where, until recently, significant recapture was happening.
He said the council wanted a cap on ship-hold fumigations as well as concentration-based limits for emissions, rather than recapture percentages.
"As a regional council, we would obviously like to see the log trade and port prosper. We would also like to see improvements in how methyl bromide is used, monitored, and, of course, recaptured."
The hearing is scheduled to end today.