Expert called in to examine Marfell Park


New Zealand’s foremost expert in the investigation and clean-up of contaminated sites has been called in to check out Marfell Park after the shock discovery of dioxins.

Environmental consultant Graeme Proffitt has been asked to lead a sampling and testing programme at the former New Plymouth municipal dump site, the Taranaki Regional Council said yesterday.

The decision was last night praised by dioxin researcher Andrew Gibbs who last week called for independent testing of the area.

Toxic chemicals, including dioxins, were uncovered in May in drum remnants in what was a city dump from the 1950s to the 1970s before the area was converted into a park.

The drums were found at a depth of two metres by New Plymouth District Council contractors excavating for a new stormwater pipe who reported smelling chemicals.

As a result, 80 cubic metres of soil and rubbish were removed. The surprise find has led to concerns from local residents that the area is unsafe and that the TRC had failed to inform or protect them after the discovery.

Mr Gibbs has agreed to assist the council in the investigation and wants to see a thorough risk assessment carried out.

The TRC has since apologised for causing distress and says it is now working hard to put residents’ concerns to rest.

Last week, Environment Minister Nick Smith asked authorities for a full report on the New Plymouth dump sites following the discovery.

Mr Smith, who said last week that money would be found to clean up the dumps which were last fully investigated in 2001, was to be briefed last night, his spokesman said.

The investigation of Marfell Park in 2001 found no evidence of dioxins.

Yesterday, TRC environment quality directory Gary Bedford urged anyone who might want more information to either get in touch with the TRC or with Mr Gibbs.

The drum remnants and the toxic residues in nine drums, had now been removed and transported to the Colson Rd landfill where they were safely disposed of, Mr Bedford said.

Mr Gibbs said the residents deserved to know whether they had been put at risk when the dioxins and other chemicals were removed, especially considering that people were living very close to the park.

Mr Bedford responded that no residents would have been at risk.

The New Plymouth District Council had carried out a ”very competent removal” and this was aided by very wet soil which would have stopped any dust particles escaping into the air, he said.

And water tests undertaken two weeks ago at Marfell Park had found only background levels of dioxins.
“It gives an extra level of security,” Mr Bedford said.

He was so convinced that there was no risk for locals that he would be happy to allow his own children to play in the area.

“Absolutely,” Mr Bedford said.

However, he acknowledged he had no knowledge of an historical incident in the mid-1960s when eels died when there was a toxic chemicals leak into the nearby stream.

Mr Bedford also conceded that a council sewer installed in 1998 to carry leachate (liquids and rainfall) from the old Marfell dump away from the stream, would not necessarily collect all the leakage from the area.

“It wasn’t designed to the specifications of Colson Rd. I wouldn’t guarantee all the leachate would go into it,” he said.

People should not be concerned that moving the soil and drum remnants to Colson Rd would now increase the number of contaminated areas in the city.

“Colson Rd is a superb system,” he said.

It had multiple barriers, including rubber liners and solid clay, to contain and treat chemicals, he said.

In the 2000-2001 investigation for possible dioxin dumps from the former Ivon Watkins-Dow at more than 30 New Plymouth sites, ground penetrating radar was not used at Marfell because it was already known to be a dump, he said.

“It wouldn’t have told us what we didn’t know already. The key was what was coming out and it was absolutely nothing,” Mr Bedford said.


Graeme Proffitt, is a civil engineer and director of Pattle Delamore Partners Ltd. He has more than 25 years’ experience in environmental engineering, contaminated site and geotechnical site investigation and remediation.

He has helped the Ministry for the Environment to develop contaminated site management policy and guidelines, the Taranaki Regional Council said.

Concerned citizens can contact the TRC by phone, on 06 765 7127, or by emailing or Mr Gibbs on 027 324 6771.

A full report can be found on the TRC website,

16/06/2009 | LYN HUMPHREYS | Daily News | NEWS-2009-M06-16-001 |


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