Investigation launched after chemical spill at Westland Milk plant in Hokitika

An investigation is underway after a chemical cleaning hose burst at the Westland Milk Products factory in Hokitika on Sunday afternoon. 

Potentially harmful liquid was released onto the nearby Hokitika riverbank cycleway, prompting an urgent health warning for anyone who was in the area at the time.

"They should really get a medical check-up just to be on the safe side," said Steve Attwood, a spokesperson for Westland Milk Products. "The last thing we would want is somebody developing more severe symptoms later because they haven't gone in to get a check."

The burst hose released an uncontrolled chemical released of hot-water vapour, which spread across the nearby cycleway. 

Attwood said for a period of time the vapour released was believed to include dilute nitric acid.

"The acid can cause skin rashes, burns to the eye, potential breathing problems if they've breathed it in."

The warning applied to anyone who was on the river bank cycleway behind the company's Hokitika factory between 1pm and 4:30pm on Sunday.

Attwood said the chemicals in the cleaning hose don't touch the milk.

"Specially designed railways can come from Canterbury with milk in them. And they unload at a Hokitika rail siding and then those tanks are cleaned, which is what that pipe is there for."

The company said it had notified WorkSafe, local authorities and launched an internal investigation into what happened and how to ensure there was no repeat of the incident.