Toxic cleaning chemical sparks evacuation of Motueka transfer station
A highly toxic cleaning chemical dumped at the Motueka Transfer Station sparked an emergency evacuation after staff fell ill and birds died.
The fire service responded to a suspected chemical spill at the transfer station in Robinson Rd about 10am on Thursday.
They were alerted by two staff who had become ill on site.
Motueka Deputy Fire Chief Mike Compton said staff had also seen several dead birds which indicated something might be wrong.
Staff were treated by St John paramedics at the scene.
The entrance to the transfer station was cordoned off while firefighters wearing chemical suits investigated the dump site.
Compton said they found a hazardous chemical in the pit.
"Once they identified it, we isolated it into a sealed unit. It was only a small amount, it was probably about 500mls," Compton said.
"And any product that had been contaminated around it was also put into the unit."
Tasman District Council spokesman Chris Choat said the chemical was a "very strong solvent" used for industrial-grade cleaning. It was most likely dumped on Thursday morning.
"It was just a small amount left in a drum, but it was enough to have an effect," Choat said.
"We're still tracing the origin of where it came from, who actually did the dumping, but we're confident because of the nature of the solvent we'll be able to find that out rather quickly."
He said council staff would have a "quiet chat" to whoever dumped it.
"I don't think anybody would do this on purpose. This is a near empty barrell that's been thrown away by someone I don't think who realises the significance of what was in it."
Choat said the fact that staff fell ill and birds died "says something about the strength of the solvent".
"These substances, you can't get them unless you're registered and there are very clear instructions for how to deal with them. Obviously someone was doing some tidying up and didn't know wat they had."
He said the fire service was impressed by how the staff at the transfer station handled the situation.
"They said it could have gone quite badly if it wasn't managed properly."
Choat said most hazardous chemicals had instructions for how to dispose of them.
Anyone who came across a chemical that they didn't know how to dispose of should call the council for advice, he said.
The transfer station has been declared safe and re-opened.