On Wednesday both the DomPost and HB Today published the incredible story of how much pollution AFFCO meatworks has poured into the Wairoa River … for years.

As the DomPost reported, at times water tests have revealed faecal coliform counts of 3600cfu/100ml, when the District Health Board says anything over 550cfu/100ml triggers danger alerts. Indeed, the “safe recreation” level is only 260cfu/100ml.

When AFFCO’s previous discharge consent (which actually allowed this level of contamination — once  again, thank you for protecting us, HBRC!) came up for renewal in May 2008, the Regional Council considered the matter and imposed tougher conditions in the consent it approved in July 2009.

However, AFFCO indicated it would appeal that decision to the Environment Court, and a mediation process began that continues to this day … with no date certain as to when the “negotiating” will end. And all through this time — and into the future as mediation continues — this obscene level of pollution continues!

No wonder that some angry and frustrated citizen has erected this sign on St Aubyn’s Street saying: “WARNING: Your rivers are being POLLUTED daily. It’s time for a change.”

IT’S TRUE!!

The Regional Council says that AFFCO made an honest mistake in incorrectly measuring its pollution levels. Am I the only one sensing a Tui billboard on this one?!

What about AFFCO? What kind of socially irresponsible company would commit this degree of pollution and seriously claim its environmental and health impacts were unproven?

AFFCO whines that it is “too early” to say they need to spend what they claim would be $2 million on mitigation. This is a company that reported a net profit before tax of $22 million in its most recent half-year report (31 March 2010), slightly ahead of the previous year. Spare us the crocodile tears AFFCO!

Indeed, AFFCO is an attractive enough business that it is the target of a takeover offer by the Talley Group. AFFCO’s Target Company Statement reports: “AFFCO does not consider that there is any other information about the assets, liabilities, profitability and financial affairs of AFFCO that could reasonably be expected to be material to the making of a decision by the offerees to accept or reject the Offer.”

In other words, if AFFCO is worried about potential mitigation costs, it is not so worried that it feels it must disclose this concern or risk as material to the takeover bid.

This company’s treatment of the Wairoa River is shameful. That its pollution will continue unabated, indefinitely, is shameful.

We’ve heard about the Tukituki being polluted by CHB sewage and up-river farm run-off. We’ve heard about the Karamu Stream being degraded by Hastings stormwater. We’ve heard about the Tarahua/Mohaka being polluted by dairy farm effluent. Now the Wairoa being polluted by AFFCO.

Had enough yet?!

Tom Belford

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11 Comments

  1. Yes, enough. People point to the US as a major polluter but in 1975 the federal government passed a clean water act that forced towns, cities and businesses, large and small, to stop polluting the country’s waterways. As a news reporter working in the rural north — where the economy is never good — at the time, I saw the impact of this legislation on local waterways: in fact, they were cleaned up.

    It wasn’t easy: rural townships with populations of 1500 people on a good day found it hard to raise the tax dollars to pay for proper sewage systems and treatment plants, although the federal government assisted with grants. Businesses found it equally difficult, but the work proceeded. Now the Aroostook River, for example, is not a stream of congealed potato-processing plant waste and fish can live in the cleaned water released, post-treatment, by paper mills.

    I don’t understand why a country which proclaims itself to be “clean and green” can’t make the decision and do the work to clean up its rivers and lakes and penalise its polluters. If the central government doesn’t have the will to take action on pollution by setting standards, then surely the regional councils should.

  2. I have a problem with my vote for you. I think you put up the unattributed polluted river signs, being the only one with the money to pay for such albeit well meaning extravagance, but don't YOU need to come clean? And I haven't forgotten the Gilbertson not resignation . . .

    Remember what sank Nixon.

    BTW Next month all the corflute electioneering signs will need recycling so kindly allow me to share some personal knowledge here – they make a great base boards for worm farms.

  3. Hopefully Manu's question will prompt other candidates to advocate for protection of our waterways but so far only Belford and Remmerzwaal can be counted as sincere.

    Scott, von Dadlezen and McGregor, who sit on the Hearings Committee, say they care but don't match their 3 yearly election rhetoric with action while in office, and should be held responsible for the continuing degradation of our rivers.

  4. Yes, AFFCO should be made to tidy up its act although pollution is dramaticallt better than when I was swimming in the river as a kid in the 60s. Excess protein and other chemical residues are at issue herwe as well as coliform bacteria. Perhaps because the plant is the town's major employer, there has been little complaint. This is where the HBRC should play a leading role.

    Discharge from Wairoa District Council's sewage treatment plant, nearer to the river mouth, is possibly of even greater concern as it is more likely to contain human pathogens. Perhaps HBRC candidates could provide us with an update as to the consent status of this source of pollution of the Wairoa?

  5. Chris: you've hit the nail on the head: as in many similar places/cases throughout NZ, a major polluter is the town's major employer, so gets the blind eye treatment … and when jostled, uses the "we'll close" trump to stay dirty. what fundamentally needs to change is the attitude of business in general to being "clean green"; it should be seen as a source of pride, but instead it's seen as a damned inconvenience. local politicians wind up between a rock and a hard place trying to resolve this … and cannot win unless there is a cultural change to back reform.

    to a significant extent this also applies to council business too, because things like efficient sewage schemes cost – and ratepayers are unwilling to stump up. consequently council cannot command the high ground …. and business is left smirking and being excused. "do as i say not as i do" doesnt (generally) hold up in court.

    bottom line: we're cowboys who happily piss in our food and think nothing of it because we're used to the taste. the clean green mind is totally disconnected from the foul-anything cock … and we know what leads what in the average ruling male psyche, don't we?

  6. Pollution

    Looks like a few more signs are needed throughout HB region, as reading the HBToday it seems to have the attention of Van Dadelszen and Co. Great pity the pollution and dirty Rivers have not had the same attention.

    Well done who ever is responsible.

  7. I agree with Bruce Bisset.
    HBRC Councillor Fenton Wilson (no relation) has responded in the Wairoa Star that he favours a land-based waste dispersal system for AFFCO:
    ‘Not only was it sustainable and could be used to offset the plant’s carbon footprint, but it could also provide jobs, Mr Wilson said.’
    So how does the HBRC get Affco to comply is the question. Shame them? Legally force them? Sweet-talk them? Give them incentives? All of the above?
    Affco has clout, and yes, can always argue that it would be uneconomic.

  8. I think it is DISGUSTING how AFFCO pollutes Wairoa river. i live here, and since it’s summer, i have to watch me mates SWIM in that gross river. it’s so puke inducing. when i moved here, my mate showed me the bloodpipe where they empty all the animal blood, and i spewed up. (yes, I do realise i was probably trespassing, but I was only eleven.) they need to sort themselves out, and i don’t care how they do it, im just wanting them to do it pretty damn soon so i can go swimming.

  9. I intend to have the discharge consent for the Wairoa AFFCO reviewed by the end of this year.
    My ancestors are of Te Wairoa Hopupu Honengenenge Matangirau river and I believe wholeheartedly that if not stopped our river will be destroyed. The fecal coliform count is enormous, the Wairoa River is nearing that of the Manawatu River and our river seems to be next on the POLLUTION agenda.

    Why is it that this natural taonga is being neglected? I understand (for my whanau work at AFFCO) that this plant generates income and work opportunity for the people of Wairoa. Why is it then that AFFCO continues to discharge its waste into the once food basket of my people?

    With the help of everyone who has spoken truthfully on this matter we can restore this once bountiful taonga, assuming HBRC see AFFCO as a business contributing to the financial well-being of the people of Wairoa.

    kia tau te mauri

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