Toxic trash could have been deadly

A poisonous chemical dumed in a wheelie bin in the Central Otago town of Roxburgh could have resulted in the town being evacuated or killed a rubbish collector.

Central Otago District Council health and safety co-ordinator Bern Scurr said an AllWaste employee had to dislodge an old metal chlorine storage drum that had become stuck when they were collecting refuse around the Teviot Valley on Thursday. The drum, which had been placed in a wheelie bin, then jammed the packer in the refuse truck.

The worker was exposed to the chemical and became unwell, requiring medical treatment for chlorine inhalation and poisoning, Scurr said.

Chlorine is a potentially lethal and explosive chemical and the Fire Service was called to control the danger and deal with the contaminated waste, she said.

"The potential for there to have been a fatality and/or an explosion and need for a full-scale evacuation/decontamination of the Roxburgh township was huge," Scurr said.

"This incident has highlighted some important issues for both council and the contractor, including the need for more public education around the dangers of hazardous waste and why the wheelie bins and refuse collection trucks are designed only for domestic waste."

Council and contractor staff had spoken to the person responsible for putting the drum in the bin. They were "very remorseful and horrified" their actions could have caused harm, she said.

A list of dangerous and banned items can be found on the council website and if there was any doubt, people should not put items in their wheelie bins, but take them to the nearest transfer station. instead

"The council and the contractor will continue to work closely to streamline emergency procedures and to minimise the chances of a similar event happening again."

Banned items include hazardous material (including empty containers that may have housed hazardous materials), paints and oils, gas bottles; liquids, hot ashes, rocks, bricks, soil, electronics, scrap metal, and demolition and construction waste.

The Southland Times