Mapua report shows systemic problems with environmental protection

The investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment into the toxin-contaminated site at Mapua, shows a typical example of the cavalier attitude to chemicals, community health and environmental protection by local and central government agencies, according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ.

Soil & Health wants an independent environmental monitoring and enforcement agency to be established.

“The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and the Tasman District Council (TDC) both shared a part in under resourcing remediation, complicity in poor worker and community protection, poor monitoring of toxic emissions, and a conflict of interest in compliance standards and enforcement at Mapua,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.

“The general approach uncovered in the PCE’s investigation results and those that should be revealed in the coming Departments of Health and Labour reports, could be matched at New Plymouth’s Paritutu Dow Chemical situation and at any 1080 aerial drop, methyl bromide log fumigation facility and many pesticide applications in New Zealand agribusiness.”

“Environmental monitoring as reported in MfE’s own Environment 07 report was another example of government hiding the reality of environmental protection in New Zealand. Mapua shows further incompetence and a lack of commitment to put people and the environment ahead of money,” said Mr Browning.

The PCE’s recommendations included:

“The Minister for the Environment establishes a mechanism for appointing a pool of independent, technically expert environmental auditors to assist with the management and remediation of contaminated land; and develops guidelines for when an accredited environmental auditor may be required, and the matters that such auditors may certify.”

“Independence in science research, monitoring and auditing is critical if New Zealand is to be a truly sustainable nation. Currently agencies such as MfE, the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) are caught by economic and trade agenda’s, leaving communities and under resourced and under committed local authorities to the perils of pesticide abuse,” said Mr Browning.

“Staff at the Mapua cleanup have had their health seriously affected, as have workers exposed to methyl bromide at Port Nelson, as had the community at Paritutu, or benlate exposed staff at Christchurch City Council gardens, but where was the real concern from government or council agencies? They have ducked for cover and used non-independent industry sourced science to downplay the harm.”

“The PCE’s exposure of another example of poor community and environmental care has to be a turning point. A strong independent agency that can protect the environment and those in it must be established.”

Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020, and is committed to environment free of synthetic pesticides

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Some excerpts from the PCE Mapua documents, in no particular order:

Two matters stand out as being of serious significance:

1.The limited range of the substances measured means that we cannot rule out the fact that people may have been exposed to a range of toxins, most notably dioxins as well as mercury compounds, especially between September 2004 and November 2005.

2.The design and management of the plant meant that from June 2004 until November 2004, the risk of the generation and emission of a range of toxins, most notably dioxins, was elevated.

Some of the resource consent conditions around discharges to air contained significant problems which made compliance difficult. Clear, measurable and enforceable resource consent conditions were required. It seems that TDC, for whatever reason, did not have sufficient expertise on hand to deliver these.

For different reasons, much of the atmospheric monitoring data cannot be relied upon. There have been failures by EDL, MfE, MfE’s consultants and TDC in this regard. We simply do not have good enough data to determine whether there have been emissions to air from the site beyond those included in the THI.

With respect to emissions to air, it appears that TDC failed to enforce the resource consent conditions. However, it should be noted that the Peer Review Panel was instrumental in getting key measurements carried out.

MfE did not appear to have appropriate expertise in its project team to safely and appropriately manage this project (even with EMS in place). They also did not appear to have the capability to identify serious issues and take a precautionary approach in those circumstances.

EDL’s Close-out Report to MfE5 estimated that soil passed through the MCD plant during the works contained a total of 21,177 kg of DDX and ADL. In addition, approximately 45 kg of pesticide was sent off-site for destruction. The output treated soil was estimated to contain a total of 2,588 kg of pesticide.

On 5 December 2006, MfE wrote to EDL to vary the contractual target DRE down to 80 percent. The justification for this step is unclear. The variation letter indicates that achieving the 90 percent target in soils that were only moderately contaminated was proving difficult. However, this does not seem to be an extenuating circumstance, because the 90 percent target was for overall DRE, not for individual batches; and because highly contaminated soils contained more DDX and ADL than moderately contaminated soils, they contribute more to the overall DRE.

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