25 Nov 2020

Public health officials sought advice on contaminants two months after fire notification

12:48 pm on 25 November 2020

Public health officials in Waikato asked for expert advice about contaminants two months after being notified a fire was burning at a landfill west of Huntly.

fire flame smoke embers to fry on the street close-up

Waikato DHB was notified of the fire by the district council on 1 September. Photo: 123RF

The District Health Board has released a timeline of its response to the Pukemiro fire to RNZ.

Locals began complaining of health impacts at the start of September, the same time as the district council alerted the DHB.

"The DHB was informed that the council's environmental health officers were investigating and would advise if significant health issues were identified that would require review or other input from DHB staff," the DHB said in a statement.

On 12 October the public health unit was asked to put out health advice.

It was on 2 November that the DHB was invited to join a newly set-up multi-agency team. The next day it went to ESR for expert advice.

It then took 11 days for Public Health to issue a warning about dioxins, including that pregnant or breastfeeding women should move at least 3km away from the fire.

Three women responded to this, the district council said.

"As further information is provided the health risk assessment will be updated and the public health unit guidance may change," the DHB said.

Landfills fires have been known to be the number one source of dioxins in this country for 20 years.


  • 1 September - Waikato DHB notified of the fire by district council
  • 12 October - District council asks DHB for health advice for locals about avoiding smoke and tank water safety
  • 2 November - Waikato DHB invited to join a multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT)
  • 3 November - Public health unit requested expert advice from ESR about potential contaminants from the fire
  • 9 November - ESR initial response recommends further environmental testing
  • 11 November - Regional council draws attention to a paper about dioxin after a large landfill fire in Greece
  • 13 November - Public health gets ESR report, including about a landfill fire in Canada that discharged dioxins, and same day sends its risk assessment to IMT
  • 14 November - IMT alerts Pukemiro community about dioxin

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