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Health Concerns Raised Over Waimate Waste-to-energy Incinerator Company Proposal

South Island Resource Recovery Ltd (SIRRL) has emerged with a feasibility study in Kaipara proposing the ‘largest’ waste-to-energy incinerator in the country with Dargaville Mayor, Craig Jepson seeking a fast-tracked approval to burn 730,000 tonnes of rubbish per year.

Waimate GP, Dr Crispin Langston on behalf of Waimate Doctors, an informal group of local doctors, flags health concerns around SIRRL’s Waimate Project Kea consent applications. This proposal for the ‘first’ waste-to-energy incinerator in the country, now 3 years in the making, is due to be assessed in the Environment Court.

“Discharges from the waste incinerator will be huge. The CO2 emissions alone of 1300 tonnes per day will be equivalent to an average of an extra 100,000 cars on the road.

There will also be toxic gases, some of which will accumulate, just like leaving a tap running. Eventually there’ll be a flood, even with the plug out. This flood will be poisonous.

The massive gas discharges can travel long distances. Thus, SIRRL’s Project Kea incinerator jeopardises the whole coast south of Waimate because of prevailing winds.”

Mayor Jepson claims technology has evolved over 30 years and that worries about dioxins are no longer of concern. Dr Langston explains:

“Dioxins all accumulate so, irrespective of discharge rates, at some point in the future the output will build in the environment and in Waimate District’s agricultural products to reach toxic levels.

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Another major concern is that of ultra-fine particles—these UFP get deep into the body, reaching even the brain and developing foetus, causing oxidative stress and inflammation, leading to chronic respiratory and heart disease, neurological problems including Alzheimer’s, immune damage and are implicated as a cause of 6% of all cancers. A simple internet search brings up millions of hits confirming this, yet SIRRL do not even mention UFPs.

Many of the toxic discharges are not listed, not recognised and do not yet have to be monitored. That does not mean no risk, simply that protective legislation lags decades behind discoveries of harm.

These issues affect even modern waste incinerators and every year there are new deaths and disease directly linked to these plants. Some conditions take years to develop, so it’s impossible to say it is safe straight away. Until proven otherwise it’s like blind overtaking—just not worth the risk.

New Zealand does not have a waste crisis, so this health and environmental cost is not justified—we are not trying to mitigate an existing problem. Obviously, if there is no waste incinerator, none of these risks will apply.”

When SIRRL first launched its Project Kea proposal in 2019, Robert Ireland, spokesman for Why Waste Waimate Inc pointed out that Waimate was already the third community in line for this incinerator after failures in Westport and Hokitika. Referring to the latest proposal, he adds:

“SIRRL in this fourth attempt continues to show disregard for community and consultation by employing their tactic to build a huge rubbish incinerator up north in another small and cash strapped town.

While SIRRL stalls its Waimate application, Why Waste Waimate’s members, particularly those families living around the site in Morven-Glenavy, have already had 2 years of uncertainty. They have to bear a major part of the risk for no benefit while more concerns about China Tianying’s incinerators, their performance and monitoring continue to come to the fore.

SIRRL’s and Jepson’s claim that offtakers can use aggregates from ash for roading or concrete, when it is illegal to do so in NZ, is just one example of missing and misleading information in the consent application reports.

We have been waiting since September 2023 for SIRRL to answer a long list of questions on the Project Kea proposal from both Waimate District Council (WDC) and Canterbury Regional Council (ECan) and their experts. This technical information is pivotal to inform the case in the Environment Court.

SIRRL’s stalling is unacceptable, however in the meantime, more thorough examination and research is doing the company no favours.”

Why Waste Waimate Inc. is a community group of >200 members in opposition to Project Kea. It was formed in 2021.

Waimate Doctors is an informal group of local GPs who have been actively engaging with SIRRL to help inform the Waimate community of health and related issues around the Project Kea proposal.

A short background film about the SIRRL Waimate proposal was produced by Frank Film Does New Zealand need a waste-to-energy plant

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