For the last month or two, residents of the new Wigram Skies suburb in Christchurch have been suffering from toxic smoke blowing across them. It has been coming from a fire in the nearby recycling pit caused by the spontaneous combustion of some medium-density fibreboard. You can see what they have been putting up with in this picture. No wonder 150 of them came to a public meeting called by MP Megan Woods, in whose electorate that new suburb has developed.
The toxicity comes from burning formaldehyde. The Medical Officer of Health says that there is no long term health risk posed by the smoke and fumes. That is a good thing. But it is still unpleasant, irritates the nose and eyes, stinks and is an air pollution issue. I visited it with Megan recently and even on a still day I could smell it in the air the moment I got out of the car. Now it seems the fire has collapsed and is able to be put out. It has been too hot for firefighters to get near until recently.
The question shifts now to what to do about it and how do we prevent something like this happening again. The site needs to be cleaned up and taken over by the Ministry for the Environment. Residents have legitimate questions about the environmental impact on the local area and the pollution threat to water resources given the fact that the Owaka pit is right on top of an aquifer. If we still had a democratically elected Environment Canterbury body, something might have been done or planned by now. But we don’t. This is a major pollutant and the Minister for the Environment, Amy Adams, should take it over as a pressing concern for these people.
Oh, and by the way – the pit is in Amy Adams’ electorate……