New Zealand Herald, 10 June 2009
Environment Minister Nick Smith is promising another look into where toxic chemicals might have been dumped around New Plymouth.
The spectre of chemical contamination from the former Ivon Watkins-Dow chemical factory has again been raised when at least nine drums containing chemicals were found at Marfell Park, near a children’s playground, last month, the site of the city’s former dump.
The find has angered local residents, who say they were not informed about the chemicals’ removal and want more testing to ensure the park is safe.
Dr Smith today told Radio New Zealand he had sought reports from the Taranaki Regional Council and Ministry for the Environment by the end of the week, to see whether all possible steps had been taken to identify areas where there could be more dumped chemicals.
The situation reflected unsatisfactory standards in the 1960s when chemicals were lawfully dumped in tips but the council had acted quickly to remove the chemicals, he said.
“I think the community is right to ask that there needs to be post clean-up tests to ensure that the park is quite safe.”
However, he didn’t think the people of Marfell needed to be tested for health problems as they were not full drums but just contained residue.
Dow Agro Sciences, formerly Ivon Watkins-Dow, said it did not know how chemicals got there.
Operations leader Andrew Syme said the company would have used municipal landfills along with many other companies in the past.
He did not have any specific information about how the broken drum remains came to be in the Marfell landfill area, the Taranaki Daily News reported.
The company’s long-standing practice was that chemical drums were not disposed in public waste facilities and Dow AgroSciences had not handled tetrachlorobenzene and trichlorophenol for more than 20 years, he said.
The company was naturally concerned about the find and would assist the regional council with its investigations, he said.
Former Ivon Watkins-Dow manager Bob Moffat told the paper that in 1955, when he began work at the company, there were no restrictions on what could be taken to municipal dumps.
It wasn’t everyday practice to take waste to the local tip but it did happen.
“That was part of the normal state of things in those days,” he said.
Marfell resident Mark Smith was angry that children were playing in the playground above the dug up area.
He had watched men in white suits take the drums out over two nights, but that despite that, nobody told neighbours what was going on, he told Radio New Zealand.
Council director of environment quality Gary Bedford disputed the council was not informing locals. He said information about the drums had been in public arena for four weeks.
The chemicals found in the drums – tetrachlorobenzene and trichlorophenol, both used in the manufacture of herbicides – were not a public health risk.
The council had been monitoring the site for 15 years and discharge testing would pick up surface contamination.
It could look at sample testing but it was difficult to effectively test the entire site, and could miss hotspots.
Thirty-one alleged and five known agrichemical dump sites throughout New Plymouth were investigated and the council found there were no environmental risks at any of them.
There are 40 former landfill sites in the New Plymouth District of which 10 are used as parks or reserve land.