5 Aug 2016

Tonnes of hazardous material left behind by liquidated company

10:16 am on 5 August 2016

A company has gone into liquidation leaving behind tens of thousands of tonnes of hazardous material, raising questions about who is responsible for it.

Tiwai Point smelter

Tiwai Point smelter Photo: Wiki Commons

The material, Ouvea Premix - a type of fertiliser - comes from dross from Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter.

Aluminium dross is a hazardous material which releases flammable, poisonous gas when exposed to water.

The dross was processed by a Bahrain-owned company, Taha Asia Pacific, which extracted surplus aluminium from it, supplied it back to the smelter and prepared the remainder for conversion into fertiliser.

The firm went into liquidation on Tuesday, affecting 22 workers.

The mayor of Gore, Tracy Hicks, said Taha's failure raised concerns over the amount of material which could now be stranded for lack of money.

"I am annoyed and frustrated that the council has been presented with this challenge. I can also say that our legal team has been in contact with the liquidator to work through the options that might be available."

Mr Hicks said 2000 tonnes of Ouvea Premix was placed at a disused paper mill in Mataura and he understood tens of thousands of tonnes was stored elsewhere in Southland.

Resource consent was granted retrospectively last year for the Mataura storage, subject to strict conditions and payment of a $2.3 million bond.

But that money was subjected to Environment Court-ordered mediation and had not been paid by the time the company went into liquidation.

The mill is owned by Dunedin investor Greg Paterson, who on-leased it. He said he did not have enough information on the matter to comment.

A further complication came from the fact that Taha Asia Pacific is in liquidation but its sister company, Taha Fertiliser Industries, is not.

Mr Hicks said his council was taking a hard line in the meantime.

"This is an experience we would prefer not to be having.

"Taha had a consent for a short period of time.

"We will certainly be looking to enforce all the conditions that consent laid down. Flood mitigation, a finite time for the product to be out of the site and also a bond," he said.

Invercargill City Council director of finance Dean Johnston said he did not know how much Ouvea Premix was being stored in the region.

"But I understand it is stored in three or four locations throughout Southland; Mataura, Kennington and Awarua.

"We have approached Taha, as yet we have heard nothing from them, so the liquidator will be in contact with everyone shortly. We will need to get some assurances as to what is going to happen to the product."

Pacific Aluminium, which runs the smelter, said its staff would deal with dross from the site until someone else was found to do so, and it was working with external recruiters to offer temporary jobs to nearly all former Taha employees.