Last week I went up to Paekakariki to visit Flo McNeill who is a driving force in the “Friends of Wainui Stream”. This stream is a beautiful example of community effort of riparian planting and healthy population of native fish and tuna (eels). The water looks clean, although running pretty low at the moment and the kids regularly visit the tuna.
So it was pretty disturbing that the stormwater drain running into the stream still smells strongly of a chemical called styrene. During the maintenance of nearly stormwater pipes six months ago, the company involved used a resin product containing styrene to fix the pipes. Styrene is a hazardous chemical used in a number of products. The jury is still out as to whether styrene exposure, particularly for workers, has a causal link with cancer. The photos show the creek turned an ugly colour, the grass around the pipe died and people were gagging from the fumes. The Friends of Wainui Stream did not take this incident lying down. They have pursued all avenues in an effort to get someone held responsible for this impact. The Kapiti District Council and Wellington Regional Council claim that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute the company, which has since gone bankrupt. The data safety sheets on the chemical risks of styrene are unhelpful and opaque.
Although the independent fresh water ecologist hired by the Friends group says the waterway is now in a pretty good state, Flo is worried that this incident happened at all and also where else this resin product is being used. There are questions she wants answered about worker safety, water safety and long-term effects of styrene. Flo wants to know where else in the country this chemical is being used in pipe maintenance, and how public health and water are being protected. If a community group passionately committed to a local stream cannot get answers, let alone a prosecution for this kind of pollution, what about other waterways where nobody is watching?