28 Apr 2017

Demolition dumping leaves Christchurch residents in the dust

7:23 pm on 28 April 2017

A group of Christchurch residents are worried about potentially toxic dust coming from demolition waste produced by the earthquakes.

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Medium-density fibreboard has been dumped at an old rubbish pit in Wigram since the earthquakes. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) has been dumped at an old rubbish pit in Wigram since the earthquakes and nearby residents are worried it could be harming their health.

The dumping of MDF is restricted to certain places because of the formaldehyde it contains, which can be harmful.

Jasmina Henderson only lives about 100m from the pit and said her windows become covered in dust, especially when the wind blew from the direction of the pit.

She was worried about what was in the dust and the impact it was having on the health of her and her family.

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Kay Stieller Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

"I've got my own garden, it's not big but it's got fruit and everything else growing and I want to know that it's safe for me and my children to eat it and it's safe for all of us to be able to do what everybody wants to do, grow their own food if they want to and eat it."

Kay Stieller said dust potentially containing MDF made its way to her place as well.

But she said those living closest to the pit were coated in it.

"They have to wash their houses a lot and dust is on their window sills. You shouldn't have to do that. Once the southerly hits, especially in north Awatea, there's just a cloud of dust and you see it rolling and rolling towards Halswell as well."

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A dump truck leaves the Wigram rubbish pit. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

A fire at the pit four years ago burned out of control for five weeks sending smoke to surrounding homes, including the one belonging to Julie Shivas.

She worried about the impact smoke from the burning MDF had on her and her husband.

As well as the risk of another fire, she was concerned about the extra hazard created by the burned MDF that remained at the pit.

"It was very disappointing to find out, coming from the red zone, thinking that you were going to have a new start, and then find out that within a hundred metres or so, you were living next to this site. And now there's thousands of houses going in here that are going to be built right up to the boundary of the Owaka Pit."

All sorts of toxic waste were dumped at the pit prior to the earthquake by the previous owner and this had compounded the problem, Christchurch City Council local community board chair Mike Mora said.

He said the threat was not just from the air.

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Mike Mora Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

"What this pit is doing, it's sitting right in - not on, in - the unconfined aquifer and that's causing pollution of wells right around this area."

The council had sat on its hands over requiring the burned and non-burned MDF to be transported to a more appropriate place away from residents, he said.

"And every day that nothing's happening or it's happening too slow is another day we can't afford when we're talking about the environment, people's health, quality of life and well-being."

In a short statement the council said it had not received any recent complaints about dust coming from the MDF.

It said the pit was currently being investigated and it was therefore unable to comment further.

The owner of the pit, Alan Edge from Southern Demolition, did not return calls.

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