Council Fined $115,000 for Buttermilk Dump

Madeleine de Young – November 25, 2014

An ‘environmentally friendly‘ solution proved to be exactly the opposite for South Taranaki District Council, with the council receiving a fine of $115,000 last Friday.

Over the course of a month South Taranaki District Council dumped 3 million litres of Fonterra’s buttermilk at the Eltham Wastewater Treatment Plant. It was supposed to be an ‘environmentally friendly’ solution in response to a record milk production period.

As the buttermilk began to break down, a putrid sour smell enveloped the town of Eltham. Over the course of the past year Eltham and Stratford residents have complained of a significant blowfly problem and negative health effects, directly related to the smell.

Taranaki District Health Board has since released a Public Health Assessment of People Notified with Suspected “Poisoning Arising From Chemical Contamination of the Environment.’ Their conclusions list 11 cases (of 13 reported) where patients reported symptoms which were probably caused by the ‘objectionable and offensive odours’ emitted from the Eltham Wastewater Treatment Plant. While Taranaki District Health Board do not believe that there will be ongoing harm as a result of the smell, Dr Jonathan Jarman has stated,

“It is important that the Earthen Anaerobic Digester at Eltham is never used again for the treatment of waste from milk production.”

Dr Jonathan Jarman, Medical Officer of Health

In August Taranaki Regional Council laid charges against South Taranaki District Council and Fonterra for breaches of the Resource Management Act.

“The charges relate to offensive and objectionable odours caused by the disposal and treatment of Fonterra dairy products at the STDC Eltham Wastewater Treatment facility.”

Fred McLay, Taranaki Regional Council

In September South Taranaki District Council plead guilty to one charge of breaching the Resource Management Act by causing offensive and objectionable odours by the disposal and treatment of Fonterra Dairy . Taranaki Regional Council responded by withdrawing a further eight charges.

South Taranaki District Court was sentenced in the Environment Court on Friday, 21st November, receving a fine of $115,000. The council is currently deciding whether to appeal the severity of the fine.

“We put our hands up and took responsibility for this as soon as we became aware of it, and we really bust our butts to fix it…The decision shouldn’t have been so rushed and needed more due diligence, and I’ve ordered a review of the process so something like this can’t happen again.”

Craig Stevenson, South Taranaki District Council Chief Executive

This heavy fine comes from within a context of steadily rising repercussions for RMA breaches. In regards to Dairy breaches there is the argument that ‘the fact that similar types of cases continue to come before the courts seems to indicate that a more stern response may be required in the future.’ – Judge Harland

Meanwhile, Fonterra plead not guilty to the charges in October. Their case is ongoing.

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