The Awatoto area of Napier includes a range of different industries across an estimated 20 businesses. There is a large number of chemical and biological materials held in this industrial area which includes such businesses pet food, carpet and compost manufacturing, fertiliser, wool scouring and animal protein rendering plants. The area also includes Napier’s wastewater treatment plant, which is currently non-operable. During and after the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle, materials on these sites may have been disturbed and mixed. They may have contaminated flood water and silt in the area as floodwater moved through. There is also a small residential zone in the area, made up of 26 properties some with multiple homes.
On Tuesday 21 February 2023, samples were taken at nine sites in the Awatoto area.
These were taken from a mix of spills, overflows and sections of water or silt that were observed to be different to other areas, as well as general areas of standing floodwater and silt in the vicinity. Recommendations were made by a scientific and technical advisory committee chaired by Fire and Emergency New Zealand. These recommendations included establishing a controlled cordon, and carrying out risk assessments in a coordinated way across industry and council-run operations. It was also recommended that a multidisciplinary team be assembled including specialists in environmental science, occupational hygiene and hazardous materials. It was advised that investigations needed to be undertaken by this team before areas within the cordon can be cleared and remediated.
A larger programme of sampling, run by independent experts, is currently being undertaken to better understand contaminants throughout the entire Awatoto area. This will provide a more comprehensive picture and inform decisions around clean up and silt disposal.
There are currently over 60 testing sites and close to 300 samples taken. We have tested for an extensive list of substances including heavy metals and microbes. The testing so far has included taking samples of silt and standing water. Air (dust) testing will begin from Monday 20 March using five ambient monitoring units sourced from as far away as the UK. The process that follows sample collection is detailed below. Napier City Council has put in place an Awatoto Response Team dedicated to working through the needs of Awatoto residents and industry. We are currently increasing the capacity of the team by bringing in additional people from around the country. As the team prepares reports they will include remediation actions and recommendations to Napier City Council as well as potential solutions for the disposal or reuse of silt. Our timeline is dependent on the laboratories and their ability to process samples. The current ‘worst case scenario’ on results being returned to us is Monday 27 March. The Awatoto Response Team includes scientists, occupational hygienists, soil contamination specialists, environmental scientists, chemists, toxicologists, hazardous materials specialists as well as logistics, intelligence, welfare and public information functions.
Residential properties within the investigation area of Awatoto - 26 properties on Awatoto Road, McLeod Road, Waitangi Road North and Phillips Street - have been tested for heavy metals and microbes. Results are coming in but we don’t yet have all results back from the lab, currently bacteria testing results show levels are elevated. Degradation testing will be carried out today with results expected back from the lab by Monday. In the meantime, residents have been advised to wear full PPE while at their properties and maintain high levels of personal hygiene. Some of these properties have yellow and red placards. As results are received, analysis and interpretation is being carried out by the Awatoto Response Team in conjunction with Te Whatu Ora.
Occupational hygienists have arrived to help in the Awatoto response. They will be working directly with businesses.
PCBUs (business operators) have responsibilities under health and safety regulations to keep their workers safe at work. Occupational hygienists will be visiting industrial sites in the Awatoto Industrial Zone, on request by the business owners, to peer review their risk assessments, controls and mitigation actions. It’s a collaborative process with occupational hygienists assessing sites, risks and plans, and providing recommendations. They will not sign off or amend risk assessments.
Any information provided in the process remains confidential between the PCBU and the occupational hygienist working with them. Information can be used by the occupational hygienists to inform the evaluation of the wider area to ascertain the full situation within the Awatoto Industrial Zone. Worker health and safety in relation to flood contamination is their focus with recommendations being informed by data. Inventories of chemical loss provided by PCBUs are also useful tools in gaining a full picture of risks.
Occupational hygienists will also be working closely with Napier City Council to evaluate the wastewater treatment plant in terms of the health and safety of those working there.
Occupational hygienists are chemists, physicists or environmental scientists with post-graduate qualifications in the science of health and safety. The focus of their work is on exposure of workers to contaminants and mitigation of risks.
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