New Zealand’s ‘Green’ Credentials aren’t quite as good as they should be for a country with such a low population, much of NZ’s green reputation is little more than greenwashing used to sell produce and tourism.
Despite John Key’s flannelling on the recent BBC Hardtalk interview, New Zealand is anything but 100% pure and there is plenty of factual evidence that the country is unable live up to the image it has generated for itself.
“We must get real about cleaning up our rivers and lakes, because the world is beginning to realise that we aren’t living up to our clean green image.” quote from Dr Russell Norman, Green Party.
Dr Norman was responding to John Key’s interview, during which the host Stephen Sackur commented that New Zealand is clearly not 100% Pure and cited that half of New Zealand lakes and 90% of our lowland rivers are classed as polluted. Much of that pollution comes from intensive dairying practices, and some from the petrochemical industry.
There is far too much reliance on mining, use of fossil fuels and burning of wood in New Zealand, this causes serious pollution of the air and land. In addition to that some processes have been secretly going on for decades with very little controls or monitoring. For example, fracking.
Fracking was undertaken 72 times over 22 years in Taranaki with no monitoring of the type or volume of chemicals used, according to information provided to the Sunday Star-Times.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into rock masses thousands of metres below the earth to help release oil and gas. From 1989 until August 2011 the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) did not require resource consent for fracking. Companies discharging “fracking fluid” into the earth were not required to submit records of the type and amounts of chemicals used.
The Green Party said this showed local and central government “dropping the ball” in overseeing the potential effects of fracking on New Zealand. “How can the council be monitoring the environmental effects of the chemicals if they don’t have records of what chemicals were used?”… more here
In April 2011 a copy of the government’s draft energy strategy: Developing Our Energy Potential was released ‘mistakenly’ into the public domain. It quickly became evident that the present National government was placing far too much emphasis on the mining of fossil fuels in New Zealand.
The Green Party called the strategy which promoted coal and oil exploration, 19th century and said it put ‘petroleum and mineral fuel reserves (essentially oil, gas and coal) ahead of investing in renewable power sources and new technologies.
“…This strategy demonstrates how backwards-looking this Government is on energy. They clearly do not have a logical, coherent plan,” said Greens energy spokesman Kennedy Graham.
“On one of the first pages of the document, the strategy acknowledges that oil prices and the cost of greenhouse gases will rise. But instead of developing a plan to reduce our reliance on these unsustainable energy sources, it goes on to prioritise fossil fuels like offshore oil drilling and lignite – the dirtiest coal.
“It’s a short-sighted economic strategy that will ultimately impoverish New Zealand, and will undermine international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“New Zealand’s prosperity in the future will depend on investment in clean, green technology and sustainable jobs, not opening our shores to foreign companies to exploit a 19th century resource.”…” read more, including what the public think about the report
Later the same month Environment Minister Nick Smith admitted tougher controls on the quality of rivers, lakes and streams recommended by the Land and Water Forum are “realistically several years away” He acknowledged that “better freshwater management is critical to our primary industries, our great Kiwi lifestyle, our tourism industry, to iwi, to our clean environment, and to the electricity sector”
Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party that the Minister had “run out of excuses” for delaying rules to clean up rivers and lakes. Saying “Half of New Zealand’s waterways were unsafe for swimming and almost one-third of its lakes were unhealthy. We desperately need regulation that creates certainty and has teeth.” source
It’s thought that there are at least 20,000 contaminated sites in New Zealand including former gasworks, timber and agriculture sites. The location of most of them is kept from the public. We think the true number of sites is higher than this, see the quote below about 50,000 sites contaminated by sheep dips.
4000 potentially contaminated properties in the Canterbury and Tasman districts will not be revealed in a public register, despite a ruling by the Office of the Ombudsmen to do so. Tasman refused to release its list of 850 sites and ECan said it would release its list of 3400 potentially contaminated properties only if applicants paid a fee and signed a memorandum of understanding. source
“There’s a tension here between the public’s right to know and our need to manage the information in a sensitive way. Information about private land can have a significant commercial impact on that owner,” ECan director of monitoring and investigations Ken Taylor said.”
“Historical use of arsenic based pesticides in sheep-dips has resulted in an estimated 50,000 sites contaminated with arsenic and persistent organic pollutants such as dieldrin. Urbanisation of agricultural land has resulted in the belated discovery of arsenic-contaminated residential soils. As well, past pesticide practices in agriculture and horticulture employed arsenic-based compounds. Recent sampling of previously productive soils has uncovered high levels of arsenic in some soils.”
Soils associated with the production and use of Copper-Chromium-Arsenic (CCA) treated timber also exhibit elevated arsenic concentrations. Wood-waste and timber-treatment sites often contain arsenic hot spots that present a risk to groundwater. The extensive use of CCA-treated posts in agricultural and horticultural systems might lead to the long-term arsenic contamination of New Zealand’s productive soils…” source
Hundreds of hectares of land are polluted with toxic chemicals left behind after years of intensive fruit growing, chemical use and/or manufacture (Agent Orange, wood preservatives, heavy metals etc) Over time, as the use of orchards declined, the land was often sold on for residential housing development. Many homeowners are unaware that their houses are built on contaminated land. Councils are very reluctant to release information as it will have a negative impact on land values and there could be massive bills for remediation work and difficulties in disposing of the waste materials.
Environment Canterbury (ECan) is investigating claims that drums filled with toxic chemicals are buried underneath Opuha Dam’s lake, near Fairlie. It was alleged some of the drums contained 245T, a dioxin-contaminated herbicide used to make Agent Orange. It seems these drums were dumped in 1994, and the practice of dumping chemicals was widespread at the time. source (thank you to our reader Moonlight)
New Zealand was one of the last countries in the world producing 245T when it was banned in 1987, and its country’s farmers were among the world’s biggest users.
Drums of toxic chemicals were recently discovered beneath a children’s playground in Marfell, the site of New Plymouth’s former city refuse dump. The chemicals were tetrachlorobenzene and trichlorophenol, both used in the manufacture of herbicides.
“Bottles of toxic chemicals have been found in an old waste heap hidden between the Pukekura Raceway and the Bowl of Brooklands.
The Taranaki Regional Council is investigating after plastic containers labelled as 2,4,5-T were discovered in the tip by a Womad visitor last weekend.
The herbicide gained notoriety as one of two main ingredients in Agent Orange, the controversial chemical used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The chemical was later linked to cancer and birth defects among people exposed to it…” more
Ivon Watkins Dow (now named Dow Agro Sciences)manufactured herbicides ’24D’ and ’245T’, used in equal part in the manufacture of the defoliant Agent Orange, at its Paritutu plant for use in the Vietman war. The dioxin contaminant TCDD within ’245T’ is considered to be highly toxic to humans. Exposure to dioxins is alleged to have resulted in an estimated 10% increase in cancer deaths in the New Plymouth area.
Over a 30 year time span 20 million litres of the 2 herbicides were sprayed in New Zealand to control gorse and other weeds. The NZ government was said to have subsidised the use of the herbicides and 245T was both produced and used in NZ long after other countries had banned them. Production in the USA ceased in 1979 but continued in New Plymouth until 1987
The air at more than half of all the air sampling sheds in New Zealand fails quality tests, with much of the pollution caused by residential wood smoke during winter, even with proposed improvements 45% of the population will still be exposed to higher than acceptable levels of PM10s.
One of New Zealand’s rivers – The Manawatu – is among the most polluted in the world and many beaches suffer pollution from stormwater and waste water overflows making them unsafe to swim on.
Tonnes of toxic herbicides and pesticides are dropped from helicopters over thousands of hectares of countryside every year, including the highly controversial and dangerous poisons 1080 (see 1080 posts) and Brodifacoum (a rat poison similar to warfarin) – neither of them are intended to be distributed from the air, they are supposed to be laid in covered bait stations. Weed killer is also sprayed from helicopters over wide swathes of countryside in an effort to eradicate non-native plants such as gorse. Tourists, workers, farm animals, native fauna and pets have all been exposed to these toxins – sometimes with fatal consequences.
A new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids are widely used in New Zealand. They are thought to be contributing to the rapid decrease in the honey bee population. By 2008 the Environmental Risk Management Agency had licensed 23 neonicotinoid-based products, despite mounting evidence of the harm the neurotoxin was having on bees.
By May 2011 an alarming “bee colony collapse” had been observed over a six month period in New Zealand. In some places 30% of the population had disappeared. But despite some classes of neonicotinoid being banned in Italy, Germany and France there are no plans to curb its use in New Zealand.
An example of joined up thinking with regards to sustainable development in New Zealand can be seen is the construction of a new school in the Remarkables, Queenstown.
It is the first new state primary school to have opened in the lower North Island since the 1970s cost $17.3 million to build but it was refused a grant to install an energy efficient, sustainable energy system. The school is now reliant on electricity and paying more than $10,000 a month with an estimated spend of $75,000 for the full year. The education ministry doesn’t fund electricity bills of that size and the shortfall must come from the school’s operating budget, or community fund raising.
According to Environment Southland’s report Southland Water 2010: Our Ecosystem, 89 % of the rivers and streams in the region are rated poor or very poor for quality. The 1 per cent comprises a single site – the Monowai River below the gates. No river or stream gets a “very good” rating. source
Dairy run off pollutes may popular bathing waters. For instance, cattle are been blamed for contaminating water at two river swimming spots and in Moenui Bay, at the head of Pelorus Sound, where bacteria levels have exceeded Environment Ministry standards. Laboratory tests confirmed cows were the source of bacteria in water at Moenui Bay and swimming spots at Rai Falls and Brown River Reserve, both on the Rai River (Jan 2011) source
“Dangerously high levels of nitrate are spreading across bores in Southland and some people are being told be wary of drinking contaminated water. High nitrate levels at Balfour have been known for at least 10 years and it appears the problem is spreading. Testing by the regional council in 2009 showed nitrate levels in 25 per cent of the 32 bores sampled to the southwest of Balfour had nitrate levels above the maximum allowable value of the national drinking water standards.” (July 2011)
- Pollution is ‘choking’ NZ’s rivers. “Nearly two years after a national inquiry proposed sweeping changes to help clean up New Zealand’s water, pollutants and toxic waste are still pouring into rivers. Environment Minister Nick Smith has had a report since January that recommends tough rules to protect waterways. Federated Farmers is lobbying him not to adopt the policy, saying its own voluntary and “innovative” measures are helping clean up rivers.”Conservationists say New Zealand’s polluted rivers – one international report said the Manawatu was among the most polluted in the world – are in a disgusting state.
- “Heavy metal runoff from Richmond industry polluting two waterways that flow into the Waimea Estuary is well above levels lethal to aquatic life. A report from Tasman District Council resource scientists shows the most filthy and heavily contaminated waterways are Vercoes Drain and Jimmy Lee Creek along Beach Rd, which have high levels of heavy metals, “well above levels lethal to aquatic life”.
- “Tens of thousands of cubic metres of treated wastewater were discharged into Raglan’s Whaingaroa Harbour in the five days leading up to the town’s annual mid-winter swim in which more than 30 people took part. Those discharges have drawn criticism from Whaingaroa Harbour Care’s Fred Lichtwark, but Waikato District Council has defended its decision, saying it risked overflows at the town’s treatment ponds if it did not release the wastewater, the result of heavy rain.”
- The Manawatu River is one of the most polluted rivers in the western world, fouled with treated sewage, industrial waste and farm runoff.
“Under a system measuring oxygen changes in water, the Manawatu has by far the highest reading, almost twice as much as the next worst. The Manawatu measured 107. Anything over eight is considered indicative of an unhealthy river ecosystem. A measurement of 0–4 is considered healthy…Tests further south at Palmerston North were not as high but still indicated an unhealthy ecosystem. Checks internationally found the closest pollution reading to be 59, for a site on a river near Berlin, downstream from a sewage outfall…“Horowhenua District Council admitted in September pumping 5.1m litres of partially treated sewage – including tampons, condoms and toilet paper – into the river over 48 hours in October 2007.”
See also Fixing the Manawatu will take time
- “The Hutt River is being treated like a drain, says an environmentalist who wants people to stop flushing their toilets during big storms. Frequent flushing during wet weather stretched the sewerage system, leading to wastewater being discharged into the Hutt River, Fred Allen said. A public education campaign was needed to get people to ease up on the flush button during heavy rain…” (April 2011)
- It took 4 days to clean up the latest an oil and diesel spill in the Kawau Stream in Palmerston North. The stream has a history of pollution with 2 spills in the last fortnight and 6 pollution events in 2007. The most recent was when oil and diesel was thought to have ‘spilled’ from a mechanical workshop. Pollutants over the years have changed the colour of the water in the stream, from black to green to white. The council plans to install new oil interceptors at the end of stormwater pipes in July next year as part of its 10-year plan (July 2010)
- Despite it being winter an algal bloom has killed farmed salmon in Queen Charlotte Sound, forcing a move to other waters(June 2010)
- The Dept. of Conservation is so concerned at the declining number of dolphins in Doubtful Sound that staff are scouring parts of the fiords for signs of life. “It was estimated that since 1994 the number of resident bottlenose dolphins in Doubtful had decreased by 34 %”. The department expected the drop was”because of the low level of calf survival and thought this might have been caused by the increased activity of tourist boats in the area.”
- Despite a relatively low population and geographic isolation, urban areas in New Zealand suffer poor air quality during winter. The Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand (HAPINZ) report estimated that each year around 1,100 New Zealanders die prematurely from air pollution with an associated health cost of $1.14 billion.
- The are presently 43 airsheds across New Zealand where air quality is monitored, 26 of them don’t meet the PM10 standard. (June 2010) The non-complying airsheds include Auckland, Christchurch and a number of provincial cities and towns (especially throughout the South Island). By 2013, it is estimated that 10 airsheds will continue to exceed the PM10 standard with another five airsheds potentially also exceeding the standard. These 15 airsheds represent 45 per cent of New Zealand’s population.
- Air quality in parts of NZ are so bad that the quality standards are to be dropped because the previous standards are “unrealistic” and “unfair”.The Government wants a standard that achieves material improvements in air quality without imposing unnecessary costs on businesses and communities,””These changes are about improving air quality but in a pragmatic and realistic way “… “The Government wants a standard that achieves material improvements in air quality without imposing unnecessary costs on businesses and communities.” (written June 2010) this shifting of goal posts has been talked about for the last 6 months.- See also NZ’s Double Accounting on carbon credits – “Environment Minister Nick Smith admitted that 10 NZ cities and towns are unlikely to meet air quality targets by the year 2013, saying that the overwhelming proportion of pollution is caused by home fires. And the solution to not meeting those targets?…..the goal posts will be moved.” (written June 2009)
- “Air quality in Napier and Hastings dropped overnight to 61 in Napier and 86 in Hastings (ppm of PM10)” The limit is 50. So far this winter Hastings has exceeded the limit 3 times, this was the first for Napier. (as of 18 June 2010). Both the Napier and Hastings monitoring sites are located in residential areas and home wood burners are the main source of smoke in the air in winter. An inversion layer can form during cold, still conditions over the plains areas which means smoke is not able to disperse so is trapped close to the ground. In the EC the limit for PM10s is 20 ppm as a yearly average, or 50 on a daily average.
- “Christchurch has had five nights of high pollution since May 1. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights all broke the 50 micrograms of particulates per cubic metre of air barrier, with Thursday night the highest at 72mcg. High pollution levels were also expected last night, with another frost forecast. Timaru’s winter air quality has been the worst of the measured sites , with 26 high-pollution nights at Anzac Park, including six in a row since last Monday. Its highest reading was 148mcg on June 18. Kaiapoi has broken the limit 12 times this winter, Rangiora five times and Ashburton three”. 5 July 2010
- Giant air fresheners may be set up around Palmerston North’s wastewater treatment plant to stop offensive smells escaping across the boundary. “A $35,000 system to spray a fine mist of oils and organic compounds has been proposed following complaints about the pong on hot, still days in recent weeks. Horizons Regional Council has assessed the odour problems as a breach of the plant’s consent conditions, and warned the council to act or risk being served an abatement notice.” (December 2012)
- The Green Party has accused the NZ government of fudging the figures for greenhouse gas emissions. (Feb 2011) They say that the 2050 emissions reduction target is “on the basis of net emissions in the future, relative to gross emissions in 1990”. The result being that emissions will not be cut in half by by 2050 but will rise slightly.
- NZ’s failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions could cost the country a Kyoto liability of between $1-5 billion. The authors of one book describe the Government’s current ETS as “technically obsolete” and “beyond rescue” as a sustainable framework for tackling climate change. They say the scheme will not make any inroads into cutting New Zealand’s gross emissions levels. “There is complacency in New Zealand that credits for storing carbon in forestry crops will save the country from having to seriously address reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
- The first new state primary school to have opened in the lower North Island since the 1970s cost $17.3 million to build but it was refused a grant to install an energy efficient, sustainable energy system.The school is now reliant on electricity and paying more than $10,000 a month with an estimated spend of $75,000 for the full year. The education ministry doesn’t fund electricity bills of that size and the shortfall must come from the school’s operating budget, or community fund raising.
Oil and Mineral Exploitation
- “The government’s draft energy strategy prioritises unsustainable fossil fuel extraction over policies to drive down greenhouse gas emission or stimulate alternative technologies.” “It is riddled with holes. There is significant depth and detail on plans for fossil fuel extraction, and a gaping chasm between the long-term future for alternative energy that the strategy describes, and the strategies and actions the government intends to follow in order to get there,” said WWF’s Peter Hardstaff.”
- Even though the government has ‘backtracked’ on the smokescreen of mining Schedule 4 land it is still going ahead with plans to explore the mineral belt around Nelson, the Riwaka complex in Graham Valley, the Rotoroa complex in Murchison and Sam’s Creek in Golden Bay have all been identified as areas that could be explored for their mineral wealth.
- Brazilian oil giant, Petrobras International Braspetro B.V, has been given a 5 year permit to drill for oil on 12,333 square kilometres off the North Island’s East Cape. Water depths range from shallow to 3000m at its northern reaches. BP’s leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico is in water 1500m deep.
- Radio NZ obtained reports under the Official Information Act that showed “Petrobras … was awarded an exploration permit two months ago off the East Coast without any environmental scrutiny. According to the documents released, the decision was made on technical and economic grounds, and required the company only to show it would use good oilfield practices.”
- There’s an estimated $140 billion of minerals including gold, copper, iron and molybdenum beneath NZ. Plus another $100 Billion worth of lignite in the Southland lignite field. The minerals industry is now pushing the National led government to open up conservation land for mining. They are pushing at an opened door.
- A lignite processing plant is likely to be built in Southland following successful trials carried out on Southland lignite
The Use of Pesticides and Herbicides
- New Zealand is the world’s greatest user of the toxin 1080, it is dispersed from helicopters over large areas of countryside in an effort to control mammals and unwanted pests. It is an indiscriminate poison and humans, native wildlife, livestock and pets are all affected by it. See also: Videos about 1080
- The Department of Conservation wants to release a toxin called Rotenone into the upper Karori reservoir and the streams flowing into it this summer in order to kill Brown Trout. The chemical, which may produce Parkinson like symptoms, has been used in NZ for some years but this is the first time it will be used in flowing water (August 2010)
- Native Kakapo had to be evacuated from Fiordland’s Anchor Island after a helicopter accidentally dropped 700kg of rat poison. The load of brodifacoum cereal pellets landed in the large freshwater lake on the island, a safe haven for Kakapo.
- Posters on the Trademe forum allege that the Animal Health Board is dropping 1080 onto the country surrounding Taupo Lake, contrary to ERMA guidance that 1080 aerial drops should only be carried out over inaccessible land.
- Maori Party MP, Rahui Katene, intends to draft a member’s bill to end the use of 1080 in NZ saying “Poisoning an entire forest to kill one or two species of pests, which also infects the land and waters, is lazy and short-sighted.“
- The NZ Food Standards Agency found traces of the banned chemical endosulfan in samples of cucumber and bok choi. Additionally, 10 out of 23 sample of bok choi contained the fungicide chlorothalonil or the insecticide thiamethoxam over the allowable limit. In four samples of New Zealand grown cucumbers insecticides methamidophos and thiacloprid were found at non-compliant levels in and two samples of imported oranges contained the fungicide imazalil at non-compliant levels. Read more about endosulfan here.
- See also: a Wikpedia page that contains limited information about Pesticides in New Zealand.
- A List of 763 contaminated or potentially contaminated sites in the Tasman District Council has been released, but ONLY after after the ombudsman ordered its release to the Nelson Mail. The sites include chemical, automotive, timber treatment, orchard land and landfills, a copy of the register can be found in the Box widget (below the videos) in the side bar to the right. Many councils in New Zealand have these lists but they are rarely released to the public.
- Residents in Mapua are relieved that the Government will pay to have 40 houses cleaned of toxic dust left over from a $12 million botched clean-up of the village’s former Fruitgrowers Chemical Company site.
Use of Dangerous/Ozone Depleting Chemicals
- New Zealand’s use of the highly toxic and ozone depleting fumigant Methyl Bromide has increased by 500% over the past decade. Europe has banned the use of this dangerous fumigant. Methyl Bromide is a highly toxic gas, especially to the lungs and nervous system. Chronic exposure to it through the air has been associated with a range of neurological effects and exposure to high quantities of the gas can be fatal. “The controls around the release of the gas at ports are sloppy and grossly inadequate, and are putting the health of hundreds of workers and nearby residents at risk on a daily basis.”
Unsustainable farming practices/Destruction of Rainforest Ecosystems
- NZ farm animals eat their way through 25% of world’s supply of palm kernel 1.1 millions tonnes, second only to the combined countries of the European Union.
- A leading academic recommended to a conference that NZ think smart to overcome what she called “greenwashing” by the countries that NZ sells its produce to. One of her suggestions was that NZ goods could be marked with a Fantail logo to imply that hay in NZ was harvested in a way that allowed the wildlife to escape. Companies such as Marks and Spencer will would not sell meat or milk from animals that were kept indoors all year round, this was something that NZ could try to take advantage of (despite NZ sows being kept in restrictive crates all year round and some dairy units already switching over to factory farming).
- Her comments are particularly ironic as New Zealand has itself been accused of commercial greenwashing after it’s “100% Pure” myth was exposed by the British press. The country is said to be using greenwash to promote everything from local wines to air conditioning.
- Applications have been made to operate 16 massive factory farming dairy units in the environmentally sensitive MacKenzie Basin, South Island. If successful 18,000 cows will be kept in cubicles 24 hours a day for 8 months of the year. The potential for damage to the environment is significant. One of the farms projects that it will produce 54,000 litres of effluent a day, another will produce 93,ooo litres. New Zealand has already helped to set up similar units in China.