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Ministry Glossing Over Mapua Health Risks, Greens Say

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, March 16 NZPA - The Ministry of Health is glossing over the risks presented by a site near Nelson historically polluted through exposure to toxic chemicals and later cleaned up, the Green Party says.

The ministry yesterday released a report into the effects of soil remediation -- a process to neutralise chemicals -- at Mapua, near Nelson.

The 3.3ha site includes the former Fruitgrowers Chemical Company where pesticides were made for decades, leaving soil contaminated with chemicals such as the highly toxic DDT.

The ministry said the site was unlikely to produce long-term adverse health effects for local residents and made recommendations to "further reduce any remaining uncertainty".

"The expert advice from the independent Organochlorines Technical Advisory Group is that it is unlikely that local residents would have experienced a significantly elevated level of exposure to chemicals of concern for a sufficient period to result in any chronic health effects from that exposure."

Green Party toxics spokesperson Catherine Delahunty said the press statement released by the ministry in response to the report bore little resemblance to the actual report.

Ms Delahunty said the report was a well thought out document, establishing that the 60-70 households in the Mapua area were exposed to highly toxic chemicals.

"There are no safe levels of human exposure to these chemicals," she said. "The press release from the ministry minimises the issues and focuses on a small group of chemicals implying the risk to the public is negligible."

Ms Delahunty said it was concerning there was an absence of monitoring both on and off the site for the dangerous chemicals and a lack of data to assess the risks to human health.

The report, which local residents will be given six weeks to make submissions on, admitted there were limitations in terms of the situation having been monitored, meaning it was difficult to give health assurances to some nearby residents.

Ms Delahunty said Environmental Decontamination Limited and the Environment Ministry had sacrificed public health to save money and time in cleaning up the site.

Health Ministry deputy director of public health Fran McGrath said there was still some uncertainty about "the precise levels of a small number of chemicals", and there was sympathy with locals who would have hoped all questions be answered.

"Unfortunately, knowing the level of a contaminant such as dioxins in our bodies does not predict the health consequences," she said.

A report into the health impacts for workers on the site is due to be released by Department of Labour in mid-April.

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