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Greens Welcome $500,000 Dioxin Budget Initiative

Greens welcome dioxin budget initiative
Speech to Parliament - General Debate
Speaker number one
Delivered at 3.10pm

The Green Party is delighted to announce today that another successful Green Party budget bid - for a half a million dollar programme of dioxin soil testing for up to 45 residential and former sawmill sites, and air testing for up to 15 industrial plants around the country.

This budget bid is an example of the Greens working with this Government and making a real difference to the health of both New Zealanders and our environment.

We are absolutely delighted that the Government has agreed to this bid, which is, in our view, the first comprehensive step in a long-term strategy to clean up dioxin contaminated sites in New Zealand.

Dioxin contamination is one of the key environmental health issues confronting New Zealand - one of the key environmental cancer risks that we face in this country.

And all of us have a one in a 100 chance of developing a fatal cancer as a result of our exposure to dioxins.

Dioxins are one of the world's most dangerous chemicals. They build up in the fatty tissue in humans and animals, and can remain in our bodies for years.

We know dioxin is a known human carcinogen and that there is no safe level of dioxin in the environment.

We know that thousands of New Zealanders have been unknowingly exposed to unacceptably high levels of dioxin because successive governments and local Councils have turned a blind eye to industrial activities that result in dioxins and allowed heavily polluting industries such as timber mills and chemical factories to operate in an almost unregulated manner - even after they were warned of the dangers of dioxins.

The health risks of our exposure to dioxins have been seriously downplayed for much too long.

As a result of our long exposure to lethal dioxins, New Zealanders now have dietary dioxin intakes that are 70 times higher than the US Environmental Protection Agency recommends. We have dioxin levels in breast milk that may exceed by fifty times the recommended daily limit set by the World Health Organisation.

So what are we doing about it?

What today's budget announcement will do is help us firstly to identify and then clean up parts of New Zealand that are contaminated with dioxins.

In particular areas near the Dow factory in New Plymouth which manufactured 245-T, and the sawmill and timber processing sites all over the country which used PCPs extensively in our not too distant past.

PCP was used extensively in New Zealand from the 1960's to 1988 - principally as a fungal preservative in the timber treatment and processing industries. Unfortunately New Zealand was one of the heaviest per capita users of PCP's in the world.

As far back as 1992 the Ministry of the Environment estimated that there are around 450 dioxin contaminated timber sites in New Zealand. Indeed, if you include small timber treatment plants and dumpsites that number could be as high as 800.

We have very little information about how many are contaminated, or how badly - that is what this money is for - but we do know that some are extraordinarily contaminated. The Waipa timber yard, for example, was found to have the world's highest levels of dioxins ever found in a soil sample.

One of the concerns is that some of these ex-timber treatment plans have been converted into other uses -even into residential housing. The question is, should people be living on these sites, or near to them?

Our hope is that as a result of this testing programme that this budget initiative creates, all dioxin contaminated sites around New Zealand will be publicly identified on a national register and remedial action will be taken to clean them up.

New Zealanders have a right to know whether they live near a dioxin contaminated site. The Government or Regional Councils cannot hide behind commercial secrecy and deny New Zealanders that right.

It is crucial that we do not continue to turn a blind eye to these contaminated sites, and pretend that they do not exist, but that we begin the arduous and no doubt expensive work of cleaning up dioxin contaminated sites in our clean, green land.

The second part of today's programme will test airborne emissions from around 15 industrial plants around New Zealand - particularly discharges to air from metal foundries.

This will help us to identify whether there are industrial sites around New Zealand which are discharging dioxin emissions, and to set limits, with a view to eliminating altogether, airborne emissions from industrial processes.

The Government must also move swiftly to clean up our environment and phase out all industrial processes and products that produce dioxins.

We do not want to see the Ministry for the Environment's Action Plan for Reducing Discharges of Dioxin to Air being used to legitimise existing dioxin contamination and the continued use of dioxin-emitting products and processes.

We are concerned at the suggestion that the Government would set threshold levels and 'acceptable health safety margins' for dioxin emissions, given that there are no safe levels of dioxins.

We want to see a comprehensive strategy in place to eliminate dioxins in New Zealand, and the testing programme announced today will be a fundamental building block of this strategy.

As part of that strategy, incinerators that emit any airborne dioxins should be closed down, the use and burning of any organochlorine waste should be prohibited, and the use of PVCs by industry, and chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper, should be phased out.

There are alternative technologies available for these processes which do not produce dioxins, and industry should be required to convert to these.

As well, the Government should have a purchasing policy of only using chlorine-free paper and not using building materials that contain PVS's.

Finally, having put the health of thousands of New Zealanders at risk by past neglect, and having reassured New Zealanders that there was no health risk from dioxin exposure, the Government must now accept responsibility and compensate New Zealanders who suffer from dioxin related illnesses.

We need to compensate workers who have been occupationally exposed to PCP's and have suffered adverse health effects as a result and people.

Residents who live near chemical plants such as in Paritutu in new Plymouth should also be entitled to compensation if they are found to have an unacceptably high dioxin body burden and to have suffered health effects as a consequence.

Unless we take these measures, along with the introduction of a national environmental dioxin standard, we are not going to make progress in eliminating dioxins, as we pledged to do when we signed the international POP's agreement last year.


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