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Dioxin test homes contaminated by Whakatane floods

5 October 2004
Dioxin test homes contaminated by Whakatane floods

Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is calling for dioxin testing in Whakatane homes flooded in July with water that had passed through contaminated sites.

In the House this afternoon Ms Fitzsimons asked Environment Minister Marion Hobbs how the Government was supporting efforts to identify and alleviate dioxin contamination spread by the floods.

"The Minister did not answer whether any dioxin monitoring is being done and as far as the Greens have been able to find out no homes or gardens are being tested," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party's Environment Spokesperson.

"Ms Hobbs did confirm that several dioxin-contaminated sites in the Whakatane area were flooded. We know of at least seven.

"The CBD was sandbagged to protect it from the overflowing Whakatane River, but that move diverted floodwaters that had passed through the Matatua toxic dump site into a nearby housing area. If contamination is found in that area it must be cleaned up and temporary alternative accommodation found for residents.

"There are at least 30 known sites in the district where dioxin-contaminated waste from the old Whakatane Board Mill was dumped, but none of them are on the Minister's clean-up list. Sawmill Workers Against Poisons (SWAP) has already highlighted the poor health suffered by former workers at that Mill.

"While it would be Environment Bay of Plenty's role to monitor homes and carry out any clean up, they are unlikely to be able to manage the task without some central government support. Ms Hobbs did say her Ministry is working with the regional council to clean up two sites at local marae. However these are not being remediated, only capped with soil. The tangata whenua are banned from taking underground water, planting trees or putting down hangi.

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"The Greens are disturbed that there is still no national register of contaminated sites, which exist all over the country. When challenged on this today the Minister repeated her previous stance - it is left to regional councils. There should be a national register so people can find out what health and economic risks they are exposed to. For instance, if flooding were to spread dioxin contamination over farmland meat and dairy exports would be at risk from adverse market reaction.

"In turn, there should be a nationwide risk assessment process in order to prioritise clean up. This should take into account the likelihood of extreme events such as floods and earthquakes spreading the contamination around, with sites on flood plains and coastal areas near fisheries given priority.

"Ironically, until last year each annual statement of the Crown's financial position listed contaminated sites as an un-quantified contingent liability. That at least reminded us of the ticking time bomb and the need to defuse it. However that item is gone from the latest set of accounts, instead being buried in a broad category of 'environmental risks'. Just because the Government has found a way of burying it will not make it go away," said Ms Fitzsimons.


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