Government to pay half of bill for Mataura mill toxic waste removal

3:52 pm on 2 February 2021

A deal has been struck to speed up the removal of aluminium dross from Mataura's paper mill.

Former paper mill, Mataura, Southland

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Minister for the Environment David Parker confirmed the government would share the costs of expediting the removal of ouvea premix from the Southland town with New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS).

About 8000 tonnes of toxic waste will soon be removed the mill after the waste's producers and the Environmental Defence Society today reached a deal.

Parker hoped the resolution would give Mataura residents greater peace of mind because they no longer needed to worry about the risk from the material - the toxic waste if mixed with water, released deadly ammonia gas.

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Minister for the Environment David Parker Photo: RNZ/ Dom Thomas

"This resolution will protect the wellbeing of Southland's people and its waterways," he said.

The Ministry for the Environment and the smelter will split the estimated $1 million for expediting its removal from Mataura, Parker said.

In 2018, NZAS and Rio Tinto agreed with local councils and the government to remove the ouvea premix - a waste byproduct of aluminium production at Tiwai Point - over six years.

But flooding and fire at the site last year prompted the Environmental Defence Society to launch court action against the smelter's owners.

The society brought Environment Court proceedings against NZAS and their owner, Rio Tinto, last year.

Another company, Taha Asia Pacific, moved 10,000 tonnes of the ouvea premix - a waste by-product resulting from aluminium production at the Tiwai Point smelter - into the Southland town in 2014 without permission and then went out of business.

Last year, the waste was threatened by flooding and fire, adding urgency to need to remove it from the disused papermill in Mataura.

NZAS have confirmed the remaining ouvea premix, about 8000 tonnes, will be removed over the next eight to 12 weeks. The material will then be processed by third party contractors before being shipped overseas.

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