Quake asbestos heading south

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2014

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Toxic waste containing asbestos from Christchurch demolition sites could soon be transported to Southland.

Southland company AB Lime, which has a landfill site near Browns, was approached by a consultant in Christchurch several weeks ago to see whether it would be willing to take toxic rubble from condemned buildings in Christchurch.

AB Lime general manager Steve Smith said no deals had been made and the firm was waiting to hear back from the consultant.

Mr Smith said he understood the arrangement would involve the material being transported by rail to Invercargill and then trucked to the Browns site, or trucked all the way from Christchurch.

He did not know the levels of asbestos, or the amount of rubble, involved but said the firm already dealt with sheets of asbestos that had 100 per cent levels of the toxin.

"It can't get any worse than that," he said. "We are definitely OK to take it . . . it's just the logistics of it."

Mr Smith said that, if the waste came to Southland, the correct procedures would be followed and the product would be buried and tracked with GPS to ensure the site was not dug up again.

"The biggest concern for me at this point is the health and safety of my own staff."

But NZ First MP Denis O'Rourke, who brought the issue into the public arena, said Southlanders, as well as Canterbury residents, should be concerned.

He put questions to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee during question time in Parliament yesterday.

When asked whether he was aware of rumours about the toxic waste being transported to places as far away as Southland, Mr Brownlee said he was not.

"What I am aware of is . . . there are 19 contaminated waste sites in Southland and all of them are accredited, some of them may well be accredited for receiving asbestos waste but I am not aware that there is any contract let for such a proposal."

He said all the asbestos waste from Christchurch so far, except for one shipment, had gone to Kate Valley landfill in Canterbury. But, if the gate fee at Kate Valley was found to be too expensive, then the waste could be transported "in a way that was safe" to another accredited site.

However, the news that it could be transported to Browns, near Winton, was not welcomed by locals yesterday.

Celtic Tavern publican Wayne Stewart said it was "bloody terrible" news. "I hope we [the locals] have a say in it."

Environment Southland senior pollution prevention officer Leonie Grace said the council was contacted by Environment Canterbury several weeks ago about asbestos being transported to Southland and disposed of by the class A landfill at Browns.

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The landfill was consented to dispose of the toxic waste and the material being brought to the region had "quite low" asbestos levels, she said. "We don't have any issue with it going there."

According to the Ministry of Health website, asbestos dust can cause breathing difficulties and even lung cancer. "Left undisturbed, asbestos is safe - but if the asbestos is exposed or damaged, it can be harmful."

Southland District Mayor Gary Tong was unaware of the proposal but said it was a commercial venture being dealt with by a reliable Southland company.

However, he would be looking into the issue as he imagined some ratepayers would "up in arms".

"I guess it comes down to that ‘not in my backyard' saying."

- The Southland Times

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