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Precautionary health guidance provided to Pukemiro and Glen Afton communities

A precautionary health notice has today been given to all residents living within three kilometres of Puke Coal’s construction and demolition landfill in Pukemiro. A fire has been burning at the site since August.

A preliminary public health assessment was completed late yesterday based on a report from ESR (the Institute of Environmental Science and Research) which referenced a similar event overseas. It indicated there was potential for increased levels of dioxins in the environment as a result of the landfill fire.

Testing has not yet been done locally as it requires specialised equipment which is on its way from overseas. The scale and quantity of plastic material in the Puke Coal fire is not well understood at this stage. This makes it difficult to compare directly to the overseas example.

Waikato Regional Council Resource Use Acting Director Brent Sinclair, who is leading the Incident Management Team for the landfill fire, said although the presence of dioxins had not been confirmed, and as a precautionary measure following advice from the Waikato DHB public health unit, it was recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women seek accommodation outside of the affected area, at least three kilometres from the site of the fire.

“This is the recommendation by Waikato DHB’s public health unit and it holds until environmental testing shows dioxin levels aren’t elevated or until we know the fire is out and no longer a risk.”

The levels of dioxins observed in the overseas event were treated as a potential risk for unborn and breastfeeding babies. While unproven, the risk noted related to possible fertility issues for a child once they’ve grown up.

“If there is potential risk then we will take a precautionary response,” said Mr Sinclair.

A team of people today went door-to-door in the community surrounding the landfill to ensure everyone received the precautionary guidance. This is not a densely populated area, and the guidance is expected to apply to only a small number of people.

Waikato District Council Chief Executive Gavin Ion said today’s welfare response team advised some members of the Pukemiro and Glen Afton communities to find other accommodation.

“This is a precautionary approach because we promised the community we would do everything we could,” Mr Ion said.

“We have acted quickly on the recommendation from the public health unit because we said that as soon as we had new information to share, we would. We acknowledge this may cause stress to our communities, but we want to ensure you are kept safe.

“Those who are moving elsewhere for the time-being are asked to call Waikato District Council on 0800 492 452. For those that don’t have friends or family to stay with, let council know and we will help. Waikato Tainui have said they’re also here to help and are standing up their 0800 TAINUI number.”

Mr Sinclair also acknowledged the stress the community had been under since the fire broke out.

“We know this precautionary notice won’t help the stress you are feeling. However, please remember, our advice has always been to stay out of the smoke and away from the odour, and that message remains for everyone.”

Waikato regional Council has been monitoring for airborne inhalable particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) in Glen Afton and Pukemiro and the results have been within World Health Organisation guidelines.

Waikato Regional Council, with support from the Waikato District Council, has a formal investigation underway into potential breaches of the Resource Management Act (RMA) in relation to the landfill site. Two abatement notices have been issued to the landfill landowner.

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The Incident Management Team was set up to understand and mitigate the risks on the community. The team is being led by Waikato Regional Council and includes Waikato District Council, Fire and Emergency New Zealand, the Waikato District Health Board and Waikato Tainui. WorkSafe NZ, the Environmental Protection Authority and Ministry for the Environment have also had some involvement. Waikato Civil Defence is taking a coordination role in the incident response.

Media contacts:

Kathryn Jenkin
Manager Communications and Media, Waikato District Health Board
021 605 675

Teresa Hancock
Senior Communications & Engagement Advisor, Waikato District Council
07 824 8633 | 027 706 5776

Inger Vos
Communications advisor, Incident Management Team
07 859 2744 | 021 201 6337