Collaborative response to contain chemical spills

Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), ChemWaste, Te Whatu Ora and Environment Canterbury responded swiftly to multiple chemical spills at an industrial site in Woolston, Christchurch on Wednesday 9 November.

Lime dust was used to neutralise a large spill of sulphuric acid

Lime dust was used to neutralise a large spill of sulphuric acid

Four chemical spills were identified at the site, which FENZ and ChemWaste staff worked quickly to contain. The spills included sulphuric acid and phenol.

A small amount of chemical is still being neutralised by ChemWaste staff and should be cleaned up by the end of Thursday 10 November. The remaining spill is well-contained by a bund.

Te Whatu Ora confirmed there is no risk to public health and fumes resulting from the clean-up have been minimal.

A person was hospitalised with acid burns. WorkSafe is investigating the incident.

A near miss for urban waterways

Contained pool of sulphuric acid reacting with lime dust

Contained pool of sulphuric acid reacting with lime dust

None of the spilled chemicals reached stormwater networks or urban waterways.

Environment Canterbury Regional Leader for Compliance Delivery, James Tricker, said that if the spills had reached stormwater drains, it could have had a catastrophic impact on the wildlife in the Heathcote River.

“Our incident response team remain on site to oversee the clean-up and conduct a full assessment of the site. It is incredibly lucky that the spills did not reach the drains – these chemicals are nasty. We’ve managed to avoid a potentially catastrophic event, thanks to the quick actions of the agencies involved.”

Previous enforcement action taken

Environment Canterbury issued an abatement notice to the property owners on 10 August 2022, ordering the operation to cease the discharge of contaminants to land.

Tricker said, “We’ve been aware of issues at the site and took enforcement action. Now we need to assess what’s been happening at the site since issuing the abatement notice, including the spills discovered yesterday, and consider what further steps we may need to take in terms of enforcement action.”

Environment Canterbury incident response and compliance staff will continue working with the property owner and relevant agencies to ensure proper remediation of the site.