Environment Canterbury leads clean up of tyre fire

Environment Canterbury staff are currently on site at the property in Amberley where up to 1000 tyres caught on fire last night.

We’ve had staff on site last night and again this morning to monitor the fire and its environmental effects.  We’ve had groundwater scientists and contaminated sites team members working with the Canterbury District Health Board to assess what, if any, threat the fire poses to health, including to drinking water supplies.

Two possible contaminants of concern are metals and hydrocarbons which travel through the soil very slowly, meaning they’re unlikely to reach groundwater.  If there was rain then this could speed this process up, however in the absence of heavy rain then there is no immediate problem.  We have advised Hurunui District Council it can continue to source water from its community supply well.

Once the fire is out, and as soon as it is safe to do so, the waste will be removed and the top layer of soil (where the possible contaminants are) will be excavated to prevent any environmental effects.

To help mitigate the effects of the smoke, and the to protect it from rain, a clay cap is currently being put on it.  We expect this will be finished by early evening.

We are working closely with Fire and Emergency New Zealand to understand how long the fire could burn for, so we can put plans in place for the clean-up and around steps to prevent any further fires.

We had already been working with Hurunui District Council around plans to have the all of the tyres removed from the site. While only about 1000 were involved in last night’s fire, we estimate there are about 200,000 at the property.

In 2016, Hurunui District Council issued infringement notices to the tyre business. Following that, Environment Canterbury started an investigation which led to Environment Canterbury seeking an enforcement order in the Environment Court in late December 2017 for the removal of all the tyres.  That matter is before the courts so we can’t comment further currently.

It is important tyres are disposed of properly as storing them can be problematic as they can leach contaminants and potentially become a fire hazard.  End of life tyres are generally either landfilled or exported to be recycled overseas.

Environment Canterbury staff will continue to be on site in the days to come to lead and co-ordinate clean-up activities, and to prevent any further environmental effects.”

Advice from the Canterbury District Health Board:

  • Smoke may irritate the eyes, nose, throat and airways. More serious symptoms include runny or sore eyes, dry or sore throat, sore nose, cough, tightness of the chest or difficulty breathing.  In healthy people, most symptoms will disappear soon after exposure to the smoke ends.
  • People who have difficulty breathing, have a prolonged cough or tightness in their chest should seek medical advice.  In an emergency always phone 111. For all other health care needs make your usual general practice team your first call.
  • People with pre-existing respiratory (lung) or heart disease may experience short-term worsening of their conditions.
  • Those with heart disease, asthma or other lung disease are at greatest risk of harm from smoke inhalation.  The elderly and young children may also be more susceptible.
  • Avoid exposure where possible by staying indoors and closing windows and doors.  Turn off air conditioning units so smoke isn’t drawn in to your home
  • Seek medical help if your symptoms worsen, especially if you have asthma, lung or heart disease, or if you start to experience breathlessness or chest pain.