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Report provides clarity on sawmill contamination


9 October 2008
Media Statement
Report provides clarity on sawmill contamination

The Ministry for the Environment has published a technical report which outlines the extent of dioxin contamination at sawmill sites in New Zealand.
The report is the result of an investigation by consultants of 255 sites where pentachlorophenol (known as PCP) was used as a treatment of timber in sprays or dips until its withdrawal in 1988. PCP contained dioxin impurities in its commercial forms.
Sue Powell, general manager of the Ministry’s Local Government Group, says the report provides excellent information for territorial authorities: “The report shows that there is one very large, six large, 28 medium, and 220 small sawmill sites where PCP was used. The consultants obtained data at 17 sawmills to estimate the extent of dioxin present.”
Of the 255 sites, 100 are no longer sawmills. Most are zoned commercial or industrial, but a small number of sites are now used for residential purposes and land records were not clear whether those sites had been appropriately managed.
“The risk of health impacts is regarded as low, but as a precaution health and council officials visited those sites and spoke to residents. All of the residents were aware of the land’s former sawmill use,” Sue Powell said.
The report updates the national estimate of dioxin in soils at sawmill locations, and contributes to a reporting obligation under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Sue Powell says all councils in New Zealand have received the report, and under the Resource Management Act’s 2005 amendments are obliged to ensure their land databases correctly reflect sites known to have a history of contamination.
“Councils should require the clean-up or ongoing management of former sawmill sites where PCP was used before approving future land-use changes.”
As part of its usual work, the Department of Labour will visit current and former sawmill sites to ensure employers know about the soil contamination that may be present, and to provide them with information on safe management practices.
The report is available at For answers to frequently asked questions on dioxin, see


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