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Quality Standards Let Key Polluters Off The Hook

New Air Quality Standards Let Key Polluters Off The Hook

Auckland, Thursday 15 July 2004: Greenpeace today said that despite the Government's commendable attempt to introduce "bottom line" regulations to manage the country's air quality, New Zealanders are still at risk to pollutants such as dioxin. Greenpeace is concerned that the new Air Quality Standards exempt industries that burn waste at high temperatures such as metal plants and cement kilns. It is also particularly concerned that it also exempts the nation's three existing hazardous waste incinerators.

"There is a clear need to set stricter standards to regulate these key polluters," said Greenpeace toxics campaigner Mere Takoko. "Hazardous waste incinerators foul our air, land and water. They make it tougher for kids with asthma to breathe, fill our lungs and bodies with toxic chemicals, and poison the food we eat."

The three incinerators in question are situated at Auckland and Christchurch airports, and the Dow facility in New Plymouth. Research shows emissions from these plants include dioxins, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). New Zealand is expected to ratify the Stockholm Convention which outlaws these pollutants and obliges governments to eliminate their release into air, soil and water media. Industries are also required to prevent their formation in combustion processes by employing "best available techniques" such as steam sterilisation.

"These pollutants are among the most toxic substances, and they don't just go away when facilities pump them into the air. Emissions settle on our waters, on our crops and on our gardens. They persist in the environment and bio-accumulate in food chains," said Ms Takoko.

Dioxin is a human carcinogen and at very low levels has been linked to immune system and reproductive defects. Like other unwanted chemicals dioxin has been traced to emissions from facilities such as the US-owned Dow AgroSciences chemical plant at Paritutu, New Plymouth.

"The toxic incineration industry should not have exemptions to poison the Paritutu community. Our environment has been polluted, our quality of life worsened, our properties devalued and our health compromised," said New Plymouth based researcher Andrew Gibbs.

Today the government acknowledges that dioxins cause serious health problems. A Ministry for Environment report published in 1998 found that soil samples taken from a property neighbouring the plant had the highest levels of dioxins recorded in New Zealand.

"The new standards add insult to injury in a community like Paritutu where people have already suffered from historical exposure to dioxins. Paritutu residents are not expendable, and the Government and local councils now have national and international obligations to curtail their toxic emissions," said Mr Gibbs.

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