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Clear message to industry

Clear message to industry

The Environment Court has issued a significant sentence under the Resource Management Act (RMA) as a result of a prosecution carried out by the Auckland Regional Council against a publicly listed chemical manufacturing and disposal company.

Nuplex Industries Ltd pleaded guilty to a charge of discharging a chemical odour to air that caused nausea and headaches with staff of neighbouring sites.

ARC officers confirmed the incident after following up on complaints received from the Southdown area in Penrose on 5 June 2002. Investigation revealed that a chemical called “ethyl acrylate”, which has a strong, sharp, acrid, nauseating odour, had discharged from the site as a result of two malfunctions within the plant. Judge McElrea concluded that the malfunctions occurred as a result of the company’s failure to ensure that maintenance was carried out on equipment.

Nuplex was fined $55,000, plus costs of approximately $11,000. The fine is the largest fine issued for a single charge under the RMA. The level of fine was influenced by the fact that this was the company’s fourth environmental conviction having previously received two convictions and total penalty of $75,000 in 1998 for a similar air discharge, and a single conviction and a penalty of $17,000 in 1999 for a discharge to the local stream.

Of real significance this time were the court’s orders that the company:

Include details of the prosecution in its next annual report,

Include environmental issues on the agenda of all board meetings for the next 24 months, and

Issue a notice to all staff outlining the incident and resultant prosecution.

This is the first time the Environment Court has ordered a company as part of a conviction to include specific details regarding a prosecution in its annual report.

“We are pleased that the Court saw fit to penalise Nuplex in this manner under these circumstances,” said ARC Environment Committee chairman Brian Smith. “The ARC does not prosecute lightly, our first aim is to work constructively with companies to educate them on their responsibilities. The Council has had a series of high level discussions with the company and hopes to continue working with them to enhance the company’s environmental performance.”

The ARC believes that this judgement and sentence should send a strong message, not only to large publicly listed companies but also to all industry, that it is essential to proactively and continually ensure that they are fully compliant with environmental legislation and that they are prepared to respond immediately when incidents occur.

Councillor Smith says, “We want these industries to be successful as they perform an important and often essential part of the socio-economic needs of the Region. However they must also achieve high environmental standards in doing so. They have a responsibility to be leaders of best environmental practice.”

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