Act now! Exide lead pollution
10 June 2005
This alert relates to Exide Technologies Ltd battery recycling plant in Petone, Lower Hutt. The Greater Wellington Regional Council is reviewing Exide's resource consent because of recent findings that the levels of lead leaking from the plant pose a risk to public health. They are asking for public submissions on the resource consent review - you do not need to be a local resident to make a submission, submissions will be accepted from anywhere around the country.
There are four sections below: background information, some points about making a submission, details of public meetings where you can get help with writing your submission, and where you can get more information.
The Exide battery recycling plant is located near the mouth of the Hutt River which runs into Wellington harbour. The area surrounding Exide includes residential properties, local businesses, sports fields, a popular children's playground, the river bank and the beach. Thousands of cars travel on the road in front of the Exide plant each day as it is the main route for people going to and from the south-eastern suburbs of Lower Hutt, to Wainuiomata and to the eastern bays.
There have been any amount of issues with lead emissions from the plant. As but one example, in February 2004 Regional Public Health and the Hutt Valley District Health Board opposed the use of the adjoining site as a Four Square store on the basis of the potential health risks from lead particulate contamination from the Exide site.
There seem to be two main sources of lead emissions from the plant - out of the chimney, and fugitive particle emissions. Regional Public Health says that Exide has met the resource consent requirements in terms of reducing chimney emissions. However, local residents are not entirely convinced that the furnace stack is safe given what happened in late 2003, when it was removed because it was about to collapse. Exide claimed it was at risk of failing because of heavy storm winds, but a local resident has a photo which shows a hole developing in the stack days before the storm. It was when he notified Exide of his concerns that cranes were brought in and the stack was removed, Exide were apparently unaware that their chimney was about to fall down until he rang them. This is just one example of the sloppy management at the plant.
Fugitive particle emissions (that is, lead dust particles) escaping from the plant seem to be Regional Public Health's main concern at present. Additionally, there have been uncontrolled waste water discharges, presumably contaminated with lead, from Exide into the adjacent stream.
When their resource consent was renewed in July 2003, Exide was required to upgrade the plant and make changes to its operations in the next 6 to 9 months to reduce fugitive particle emissions, and that has not yet been done.
The results of that lack of action are evident in the letter local residents received from Regional Public Health on 20 May 2005. The letter told local residents Regional Public Health has requested a "review of the resource consent in response to findings that the current levels of lead coming from the plant into the air pose a risk to health, particularly to children living close to the plant. The risk is mainly from lead in the dust outside to children who live in the area for months to years rather than for a shorter time. Children are at highest risk because they put their fingers and objects like toys in their mouth which means they eat more dust and dirt than adults. Their bodies also absorb more lead than adults, and their developing nervous system is sensitive to lead."
The letter stated that "Regional Public Health believes a reduction in the lead coming from Exide Technologies is required to reduce this health risk" and provided basic advice on how to reduce the risk to health - eg including calcium and iron in the diet, washing dummies and toys often particularly those used outside, wet wiping floors, ledges, window sills and other flat surface once a week.
At the moment, Exide is proposing plant improvements which may reduce fugitive particle emissions, but this work will not be completed before October 2006.
The deadline for submissions is Friday 17 June 2005. There is a link on the Exide Pollution Action Group (EPAG) site to the submissions form, see the web address below. The basic points EPAG are asking you to include in your submission are: a) that the plant must be closed immediately and remain closed until a comprehensive site audit and improvements have been completed, and it is proven that there will be no future lead emissions at a level above World Health Organisation recognised standards; b) that there be real-time monitoring of the site. At present the site is not continuously monitored and it seems Exide have warning of when the monitoring is going to take place so can temporarily clean up their act.
As well as sending a copy of your submission to the Regional Council, you must send a copy to Exide Technologies, NZ Recycling Operation, 51-57 Waione Street, Petone, Lower Hutt 6009, or fax (04) 568 1419.
If you live locally and would like help with writing your submission, come along to the Service Centre at the back of Petone Library on: Tuesday 14 June between 5pm and 7pm; Thursday 16 June between 5pm and 7pm; or Saturday 18 June between 10am and 12 midday.
The EPAG website at http://www.exidepollution.com has information including the letter from Regional Public Health to local residents, the Regional Public Health Report on the Exide plant, the chronology of events around the Exide plant, a link to the form to make a submission to the Regional Council, points you can include in your submission, a print off petition and more - including a photo of the collapsing chimney (see latest news section).
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