17 Nov 2020

Residents near dump fire on alert after council's dioxin notice

10:25 am on 17 November 2020

An alert about the potential presence of a toxic chemical has put a Waikato grandmother off having her grandchildren or pregnant daughter-in-law over to visit.

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Photo: Puke Coal Landfill

Authorities have advised pregnant and breastfeeding women to temporarily shift away from an underground fire burning at a landfill near Pukemiro and Glen Afton.

Waikato Regional Council's preliminary health assessment over the weekend, based on a report from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research, referenced a similar event overseas. It indicated there was potential for increased levels of dioxins as a result of the landfill fire.

The council said the presence of dioxins was yet to be confirmed with local tests, which would require specialist equipment to arrive from overseas.

Dump owner John Campbell refused to talk about the alert to RNZ; last week he ridiculed locals' health fears as made up and bordering on "hysteria".

Jeanne Ree of Pukemiro got the notice at the weekend.

Her daughter-in-law fom Hamilton had visited three weeks ago.

"She came to announce that they were having a baby. The next day she was sick.

"I don't know... I'm hoping it's got nothing to do with that. After receiving that letter on Saturday, it's made me question whether it was that."

The notice was the end of having her daughter-in-law or other family to visit, Ree said.

"She can't come here, no way.

"Because of the contaminants, because we never know what we're going to smell.

"It's shocking. It's absolutely shocking."

Her grandchildren from out of town would have to stay away.

"I don't want any of them here. I don't even want my grown daughter here or my other grown son without their children."

She had delayed her cousin's visit this week from Huntly to look around her garden.

Her other two grandchildren, aged 10 and "going on 12", who went to Glen Massey School halfway to Ngāruawāhia, woke up some days and asked their mother "is it smelly today?".

Their family would be staying put.

"Because they've got commitments, they've got animals, they've got school, jobs... I don't know anybody that could just up and leave their home."

John Campbell said on Friday he had seen no sign of the fire for four days.

However, yesterday three local people told RNZ they had woken once more to the smell of burning.

The dump is for construction and demolition waste. It was granted a wider consent several years ago to take municipal waste, but the regional council said it never did so as it did not meet the consent conditions.

The regional council is investigating if the dump has breached its resource consents.

Campbell has accused the council of bias towards "local activists".

Jeanne Ree bristled at that.

"I'm definitely not an activist.

"I'd definitely rather be sitting at home or be in my garden, then out, going to meetings ... or being on Facebook, seeing what people's fears are."

Locals have called a meeting for tonight, the second in a few days about the fire.

It was not right that Campbell could subject 400 people to such a longstanding nuisance, Ree said.

"It's basically taken over my life, to be honest."

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