Christchurch City Council to appoint contractor to remove 'horrendous' wastewater plant stench

Niva Chittock for RNZ

Christchurch City Council has had a morning of fiery presentations by residents at their wits end with putrid smells from council facilities.

Bromley residents have had to put up with the horrendous stench of city's compost plant and fire damaged wastewater plant.

Resident Vickie Walker broke down when she spoke of how the smell has affected her.

"I can't work effectively or efficiently in my business and neither can my husband. We don't get our sleep and we don't relax. There are thousands like me suffering here," she sobbed.

"I won't and can't wait for this toxic stench to be remedied. You've wasted precious time already, nearly six months has passed [since the fire broke out]...I deserve my human right to fresh air. Do your job - make our health paramount."

A fire destroyed the trickling filters which process the waste in November 2021.

Fellow resident Katinka Visser spoke of how the smell is so bad, it has given her flu-like symptoms.

"The stench invades everything, it gets right inside my house. I can taste it when I'm talking - it's revolting," she explained.

"I suffer from sore throats, sore eyes, headaches, shortness of breath and I miss all my friends. No one wants to come to Bromley anymore."

Dealing with the smell had become overwhelming, Visser said, and was impacting heavily on the physical and mental well being of many residents.

On top of that smell, Bromley residents have also had to deal with the disgusting smell of decaying food waste from the city's compost plant, for the past 13 years.

Since the plant was opened in 2009, residents have repeatedly asked for it to be moved or shut down.

Resident Bruce King told the council today the plant does not meet its resource consent.

"Clauses 3.9, one, two, three and four state all aspects of the composting operation to be under negative pressure, in other words, enclosed. It has never been enclosed," he stated.

Local MP Tracey McLellan also made a submission on both of the smells.

"When I'm out and about in Woolston and Bromley, it comes up every time - almost without exception. Every time people talk about what the effects are of these unpleasant smells," she said.

"And it's not just unpleasant smells. It's not just the fact that you can't have your window open, or that you can't dry your washing on the line...It's about feeling trapped in your own home."

McLellan told Checkpoint it had taken an "awfully long time" for the residents to be listened to but congratulated Christchurch City Council for pledging action.

"For the council to make a decision today in principle, but a decision nevertheless, that they will move this [organics] plant because it should not be in a residential area.

"It's taken an awfully long time for the residents to be listened to be taken seriously. And credit where credit's due this council has at least have heard them and they've made a decision to move it. It's a first step.

"It certainly won't move overnight, but… our job is to be vigilant and to put the council on notice, they're on the clock, and we're going to keep watching until this plant is moved."

The council has been working to fix the fire damaged sewerage plant but it has neglected to fix the odour.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel told Checkpoint the issue of the organics plant was brought to the attention of the council in 2015 or 2016.

"In order for us to act, we needed to have what the regulator - Environment Canterbury (ECan) - has finally done this year and that was to issue an abatement notice. All of the advice we recieved from ECan at that time suggested that there were multiple sorces of the odours that were occuring in the Bromley area and they did not nail it down to Living Earth."

Dalziel said having heard from the residents, she wanted to tell them there was now a very clear acceptance of the need for change.

In terms of the wastewater treatment plant, the council was working to clean this up as soon as possible, she said.

The contractor, who is on board with the need for urgency, will be announced next week, she said.

To solve the smell, all the fire damaged materials have to be removed - a process expected to be finished in December.

Extra chemicals have been added to the raw waste and a specialist air quality team have been flown in from Hamilton today to sample the air in and around the plant.

Christchurch City Council expects the first results back next week and councillors have requested fortnightly updates until it is resolved.

Canterbury District Health Board advised there was no health risk associated with the odour.

If residents are experiencing issues, council staff recommended they get in contact with their personal GP.

In June last year Living Earth, who operate the compost plant, created a plan to reduce the odour.

Since then all maturing compost has been removed from the site, a biofilter has improved airflow rates, a new roof cover was installed on the screening shed, and a probiotic has been added to the compost to accelerate the process.

Councillors are also looking at further mental health supports for the Bromley community and are still considering alternative sites for the composting plant, which will take at least three years to relocate.