Mine clean-up to cost $3m
The country's two most contaminated mine sites will be cleaned up, at a cost of $3 million.
The cost will be covered by a joint agreement between the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Minister for the Environment Dr Nick Smith announced the funding today at Waiuta, near Reefton and within the West Coast's Victoria Forest Park.
The Prohibition and Alexander goldmine sites rank first and second on the Government's Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund Priority List.
MfE will fund $1.5m of the clean-up from the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund.
Smith said the "acutely toxic" mines were a "blight on New Zealand's clean, green reputation".
"The levels of arsenic are among the highest recorded anywhere in the world at 400,000 parts per million on land, or 500 times the safe level, and in water at 300 parts per million, or 33,000 times the safe limit for drinking water," Smith said.
"We need to clean up this site so as to prevent ongoing contamination to the surrounding environment and make the site safe for future generations."
The Prohibition mine was the site of a roasting plant from 1935 to 1951 where arsenic-bearing ore was roasted to release gold.
DOC inherited the site in 1987 and fenced it off to prevent public access and possible harm.
In July 2013 the Government announced a plan to remediate the Waiuta sites. At the time the cost was estimated at $600,000 and work was expected to begin later that year.
DOC prepared a remediation plan, which will include removing arsenic-contaminated soil and storing in it sealed barrels in a water-tight pit.
A condensing tower will be cleaned and a water treatment plant installed to protect surrounding water bodies from further contaminants.
The high levels of arsenic were discovered by a University of Otago PhD student, Laura Haffert, who began studying the site in 2005. Part of Haffert's thesis deals with ways to remediate the site, which has been incorporated into DOC's plan.
Smith said the contaminated sites were the legacy of inadequate oversight during historic mining.
"We need to repair the environmental damage and clean up this site, but also ensure that we properly regulate mining activities today so as not to create more problems of this sort in the future."