An internationally owned company operating a Hamilton-based yeast manufacturing plant has been convicted and fined more than $37,000 for discharging trade waste that had a significant impact on a city waterway.
Waikato Regional Council brought the prosecution against New Zealand Food Industries Limited following an event at the company's Simsey Place, Te Rapa, site over the 2010/2011 New Year period. The matter was heard in the Hamilton District Court before Judge Melanie Harland and her decision was released just yesterday.
The council initiated an investigation on 1 January 2011 after a Horotiu resident reported that the stream on their property was running black, had an 'oily scum' appearance and that several dead eels and carp had been seen.
Council staff tracked the source of the contamination back to the New Zealand Food Industries' site where trade waste was discovered overflowing into a storm water manhole on the property and into the city storm water system. The stormwater system had subsequently discharged into the Te Rapa Stream, a tributary of the Waikato River.
The discharge began on the morning of 30 December 2010 and continued unnoticed by company staff working on site until the afternoon of 1 January 2011. During that time approximately 673m3 of trade waste was released into the storm water network resulting in significant contamination of the Te Rapa stream, which flows into the Waikato River at Horotiu. (Note: 673 cubic metres is the equivalent volume of more than 23 truck and trailer tanker units.)
The court concluded that the environmental effect on the stream was significant for a period of two to three days though the effect on the river was relatively small and short lived once the contamination had been completely mixed.
New Zealand Food Industries pleaded guilty to a single Resource Management Act charge arising from the incident.
In determining the level of fine Judge Harland commented that "in my view the significant factor in this case is the effect on the environment given the amount of discharge and the fact that it continued over two days without being discovered".
She acknowledged that while the offending was not intentional, system and management failures by the company had contributed to the incident.
New Zealand Food Industries Limited was fined a total of $37,406 and ordered to pay costs and fees of $358.
The court had considered $70,000 to be an appropriate starting point for the fine. However, it reduced this due to an early guilty plea, previous good character and the remorse shown by the company by proactively engaging in an ecological project with Raglan-based Whaingaroa Harbour Care.
The regional council's investigations and complaints manager Patrick Lynch said: "All industries operating in the Waikato Region have to be extremely careful when managing material that is potentially harmful to the environment. This case is an example of a large and professional company which generally has very good systems. However, this case demonstrates that if there is not constant vigilance the impact on the environment can be significant when things go wrong."
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