‘Playing with our lives’

SHARE
Election trail ... New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters met Mataura resident Karon Turipa at the Mataura Paper Mill yesterday to discuss concerns about the toxic waste. PHOTO: SANDY EGGLESTON

Mataura residents have had enough of living on the edge. The town has been through three toxic gas scares with the ouvea premix in six months. The nearly 10,000 tonnes of dross, stored on pallets inside the mill, could create toxic ammonia gas if mixed with water. It is a byproduct of Tiwai Point aluminium production and was to be removed from Mataura before smelter owner Rio Tinto reneged on the deal. One truck-load is expected to be removed per week, but residents say that is not good enough. The Ensign reporter Kayla Hodge spoke to residents about their frustration.

Mataura residents fear it will take a fatality before their concerns over ouvea premix are taken seriously.

The town last week experienced its third toxic gas scare at the disused Mataura paper mill in six months.

It was threatened during the February floods, a burst sprinkler in July and a fire at the hydro outfall, powering the paper mill, last week.

Resident Chris Couzens said he was frightened during the fire.

“The smell was chemical. It made your bloody throat sore,” Mr Couzens said.

“I’m angry. That paper mill, it doesn’t seem like they will do anything until someone dies.”

Mataura was a great community and people did not deserve what was happening to them, he said.

Winifred and Newton Wills live 400m from the site and felt the Gore District Council let them down by not helping remove the dross more quickly.

“They just need to pick up the authority we as people have given them and don’t even take any count of that cost and get it out, because they are playing around with our lives,” Mr Wills said.

“It only took a day or two at the most to get it in there, so it shouldn’t take much more than that to get it out of there.”

They were annoyed during the floods and considered selling their home in the aftermath.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson met residents at the site yesterday.

“You’ve got a massive problem here,” Mr Peters told Mataura resident Karon Turipa.

“It is a clear, present danger.”

The dross had to be dealt with as part of the solution of the Tiwai Point alumunium smelter’s long-term survival, he said.

“We can’t hope to save Tiwai Point and leave the result of the dross of Tiwai Point for this community to settle or to fix up or the ratepayers to fix up, because someone didn’t do their legal contract properly in the first place.

“We’ve got no time to wait.”

Mrs Turipa lives above the site and holds grave concerns for the town’s emergency service personnel, who are mainly volunteers.

“Those are our local firemen that are having to go into that,” Mrs Turipa said.

“How frightening is that for them and their families?”

Residents were discussing what the guardians of Mataura were doing to help.

“That’s the community boards, our councillors representative – what are these people doing?

“It’s just hopeless . . . people have given up, really.

“It’s gone to government, but is that going to make a difference?

“It’s frustration because everyone’s just passing the buck.”

Residents were not informed if there was an evacuation plan and were not kept up to date with the dross removal.

“We’ve never been told there is one . . . and we need that.

“There’s no accountability to us about how much is going out and what’s happening – we need to know.”

She wanted to know why the dross could not be stored in sealed containers until it was moved.

“The general consensus is just get it out or get it into containers.

“If it has to stay here, get it into containers so it’ll be safe.”

Resident Lyn Arneson said it was about the health of the community and believed Mataura was of “little significance” to the council.

Council chief executive Steve Parry said there was no definitive evidence storing the waste in containers was a “recipe” for safety.

“Everyone’s main aim is to remove the premix as quickly as possible,” Mr Parry said.

“Transferring the premix to containers would not only be costly, it would mean double handling and potential delays in getting the substance off site.”

More than 2000 tonnes had been removed and it would be cleared completely in just over two years.

However, due to the time frame, weekly updates were inconsequential, he said.

In the event of an emergency, an evacuation would be communicated via the council’s outlets and through the media. Emergency services could alert the public using the emergency mobile alert platform.