Local Govt | National News Video | Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Search


Defendants hit with highest fines total under RMA


21 November 2008

Wallace Corp defendants hit with highest fines total under RMA

Defendants in the Wallace Corporation PCB toxic waste burial case in the Waikato have collectively been hit with fines of $120,000, the highest total ever handed down in a prosecution brought under the Resource Management Act.

Wallace Corp has also been ordered to promptly locate and remove the toxic material from where it is buried, and to spare no expense in doing so - a result Environment Waikato described as very satisfying after a long legal battle.

In a reserved Auckland District Court decision from Environment Judge Fred McElrea this week, two senior Wallace Corp employees, Neville Cross and Barry Dew, were fined $45,000 and $40,000 respectively over the illegal burial of the highly toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

Wallace Corp itself – described as having a low level of culpability for the offending – was fined $35,000.

All up, the three defendants were ordered to pay fines and costs of just over $150,000.

The PCBs – a substance linked to causing cancer – were inside old electrical equipment buried during the construction of a new building at Wallace Corp’s Waitoa site in 1998. Use of PCBs is heavily restricted in New Zealand. They cannot be legally disposed of here, and must be sent overseas for destruction.

The judge said removal of the PCBs from under building could well cost Wallace Corp “six figures”.

The sentencing followed last year’s defended hearing which saw the defendants found guilty on a range of charges related to the burial.

Environment Waikato launched an investigation in 2005 after the EPMU, a union with members at the site, blew the whistle on the company. The council saw the PCBs as a ticking environmental timebomb, said complaints and enforcement manager Rob Dragten.

“We were particularly concerned about the PCBs getting into groundwater and waterways eventually.

“The threat this poses to human health may not be immediate but these chemicals could potentially cause a risk decades into the future if they’re not cleaned up.

“Longer-term there is also the threat that future land use changes could expose people directly to the buried PCBs, and the risk of cancer, if they aren’t removed.”

Mr Dragten said if the PCBs had been disposed of properly in the first place it would have cost Wallace Corp about $6000.

“Now the company is facing significant fines and legal costs, and the expense of having to remove the PCBs.”

Judge McElrea said in his sentencing decision that if the union had not alerted EW after finding out about the burial “remedial steps would not have been taken, and PCBs could have entered the food chain many years hence, to the great detriment of future generations and the reputation of this country’s primary industries”.

He said a “major catastrophe” could have occurred under certain circumstances and that it was “good luck rather than good management” that had constrained damage to the soil where the PCBs were buried.

On the level of the fines to be imposed, Judge McElrea said deterring others from similar offending was important in RMA cases. “A strong signal needs to be sent by the courts that conduct of this nature is very serious and will have expensive repercussions.”

The facts of the case had put the offending in the “upper range of seriousness” for RMA offences. “This is so having regard to the deliberate nature of the offending, the known hazardous nature of PCBs, the potential at the time for very serious environmental (and consequently economic) harm, and a continuing element of risk to the environment.”

Commenting on evidence about the likely spread of the PCBs into groundwater and eventually waterways, Judge McElrea said: “I find beyond reasonable doubt that here is a low but real risk of the PCB material reaching groundwater.”

He said the future movement of the groundwater cannot be predicted, except that in general terms it would move towards the Waitoa river.

“Risking the contamination of groundwater in this case is not a responsible approach.”

Mr Dragten said EW would closely monitor Wallace Corp’s development of plans to remove the PCBs. “We want to ensure it is done quickly and safely.

“This has been a difficult and prolonged case for Environment Waikato, but where there is serious offending and a significant potential threat to the environment and people’s health we are determined to act.”

Wallace Corp’s conviction in the PCB case followed the company having previously been found guilty of a range of other unrelated environmental offences committed between 1997 and 2004.


© Scoop Media

Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

Gordon Campbell: On The Supermarket Scam, And On Tunisia’s Scrapping Of Democracy

Are we paying too much for our groceries? Hmm. Is the Pope a Catholic? Given that the two Australian supermarket chains that dominate our grocery industry routinely rack up profits in the order of $22 billion annually, that’s a no-brainer. Yet as with New Zealand’s other socio-economic problems created by our 1980s reforms, the practical solutions seem pretty thin on the ground... More>>


Government: Bill Introduced To Protect Against Conversion Practices

Legislation has been introduced to Parliament to protect against practices intended to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression... More>>


Government: Welcomes Draft Report On The Retail Grocery Sector

The Commerce Commission’s draft report into the retail grocery sector is being welcomed by Government as a major milestone. “I asked the Commerce Commission to look at whether this sector is as competitive as it could be and today it has released its draft report for consultation,” Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister, David Clark said... More>>


Child Poverty Action Group: Poverty Burden For Children Increased Due To Government Neglect - New Report

Poverty, inequity, homelessness and food insecurity are among the burdens which increased for tamariki Māori and other children in the first year of Covid-19 - partially due to Government neglect... More>>

NZUS Council: Welcomes Nomination Of Senator Tom Udall As US Ambassador To NZ

The NZUS Council welcomes the nomination of Senator Tom Udall to the role of US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, NZUS Council executive director Jordan Small said... More>>

BusinessNZ: Visa Extensions Welcomed
BusinessNZ has welcomed the extension of some critical skill visa durations and changes to immigration systems to speed processing. Chief Executive Kirk Hope says move acknowledges advocacy by the hospitality sector, the BusinessNZ Network and others, and comes not a moment too soon.... More>>

Social Development: Government Initiatives Contribute To Fall In Benefit Numbers

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni has welcomed the release of the June quarter Benefit Statistics which show a continuing fall in the number of people receiving a Main Benefit... More>>




InfoPages News Channels