Inability to assess extent of land contamination fortifies case for better data

This relates to a report released this week by the Ministry for the Environment, Our Land 2018 (HERE), which showed the overall extent of land contamination was unknown, but 19,568 sites have been confirmed as contaminated.

As Radio NZ explained, regional councils keep records of specific sites where contamination is confirmed from pesticides, timber treatment chemicals, mining run-off, fire-fighting foam and other hazardous substances.

But the report said many regional councils estimated that up to three times as many sites could be identified in their areas with “further work”.

It noted there was currently no integrated overall dataset showing the extent of confirmed contaminated sites across the country.

“We know what kind of land contamination can happen in New Zealand and how these chemicals may impact on human and environmental health but we are unable to report on the overall extent of land contamination,” it said.

The chairman of the Environmental Defence Society, Gary Taylor, said the report showed a major overhaul of the resource management system was needed.

Too often regional councils were highjacked by vested interests and conflicts of interest, he said.

“We need to look at a whole range of things, not just the RMA [Resource Management Act], but the agencies that administer it, and free them up from conflicts and perverse pressures that can produce bad outcomes.”

The lack of a standardised, integrated reporting system meant no-one knew how bad the contamination problem was, he said.

The ministry’s report was honest about the gaps and communities can’t manage what they don’t know about.

Source: Radio NZ

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