Southland residents outraged after toxic waste removal deal scrapped.


Southland residents are outraged after a toxic waste removal deal was scrapped when the owners of an aluminium smelter backed out.

There are almost 10,000 tonnes of hazardous ouvea premix inside the smelter located alongside the Mataura River near Gore.

Ouvea is a by-product of aluminium which can produce ammonia gas if it gets wet.

Last week's floods highlighted the issue with Mataura residents now calling for urgent action to remove the stockpiles of aluminium by-products from the town's old paper mill.

"Oh they're absolutely furious, they're scared, they're uncertain of the future," Sort out the Dross action group spokesperson Laurel Turnbull told Newshub.

Gore's mayor Tracy Hicks said smelter owner Rio Tinto reneged on a "handshake deal" to remove the hazardous stockpile of dross quickly. 

"Generally in Southland a handshake deal counts for quite a bit. And to walk away from that is disappointing and frustrating," Hicks told Newshub.

The $4 million deal signed last year would see the dross removed from Southland sites over several years and reprocessed back at Tiwai Point.

The Government has slammed the behaviour and is now investigating whether Rio Tinto could be held legally responsible.

"Given the way these things have rolled in the last day or two we're revisiting whether we should be now trying to hold them legally to account for the losses," Environment Minister David Parker told Newshub.

Residents have been calling for action since 2016 when a contractor storing the smelter waste without a permit went into liquidation.

"We're all saying that it's Tiwai's responsibility. It's their stuff.. and they're still making it, and where's that going?" Turnbull said.

A public meeting has been held in Mataura tomorrow night to question those in charge about getting rid of the toxic waste.

Newshub contacted Rio Tinto for comment.