Opinion: Methyl bromide

POSTED: 11/2/11 11:57 AM

Sometimes things happen just like that. It is hard to believe that only a week ago the inspection department of the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication sent out a press release announcing that importers of Christmas trees must have a phyto-sanitary certificate from their shipment’s country of origin stating that the trees have been fumigated with methyl bromide. Yesterday (because we inquired) we heard from the same department that the exporters have dropped the use of the highly toxic methyl bromide and that they are now using another chemical product that is equally effective.

That is, in a way, good news, because methyl bromide is a dangerous product. It has been banned for use in greenhouses in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe for decades.

As today’s front page story reveals, methyl bromide is not only a health hazard for workers in the country of origin. On the receiving end, people unloading a container of fumigated Christmas trees could also experience health problems and some trees would even emit the toxic gas once the tree is set up in someone’s living room.

It is therefore good that the inspection department has agreed with the exporters to abstain from using methyl bromide for fumigating.

What we find a bit disappointing however, is that the department declined to indicate what product will now be used. That is will be a chemical is clear, but what exactly its characteristics and its potential health risks are for people who handle the trees remains unclear.

That is a pity, but we figure that any chemical that is not methyl bromide is a step in the right direction.

All the same, it would be wise to inform importers as well as Christmas tree buyers about the replacement product, if only to give consumers inkling about how they have to deal with their trees and to advise them about safety measures.

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