In 2011, I negotiated an agreement with the National Government to advance work on cleaning up contaminated sites across the country. This included establishing a National Register of the ten worst sites where the creators of the problem could not be held accountable. These “orphan” sites would be cleaned up by a joint funding arrangement between central and local government.
Regional councils were also challenged to create a consistent and publicly transparent approach to these sites across the country. We made some good progress including the clean up of the Tui Mine site and we negotiated criteria for the National Register, which were scientifically robust. I worked with both Nick Smith and Amy Adams to achieve this progress. However, there are still hundreds of contaminated sites to properly identify, assess and clean up, and in this term of Parliament progress seems go have stalled. The Government dropped the agreement and stopped working with us.
Of the top ten sites on the National Register only four seem to be costed and subject to active clean-up. The recent Insight on Radio New Zealand documentary highlights this issue. I understand how complex these clean-ups are but it’s very concerning that it’s only a “middle level priority” for the Government. The sites are contaminated with heavy metals, dioxin, PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) and other nasty chemicals. They leach these chemicals into soil, water and the food chain. They are serious but invisible health risks.
This week we challenged the Minister for the Environment about the underspend of the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund. He says we are confused and it’s not a cut. We know it’s not a cut in funds; it’s a lack of leadership and political will to actively require more from regional councils and from the National Register clean-up priorities.
Nick Smith has given councils until 2020 to identify their sites and until 2030 to clean up. This is too slow, as these sites are a risk needing to be addressed with urgency and commitment.