Waikato dairy company slapped with record fine after stench causes headaches, vomiting

Cattle grazing in a feild with the sun rising in the background.
Photo credit: iStock

A Waikato dairy processing company has been convicted and slapped with a hefty fine after a stench which caused headaches and vomiting among some nearby residents.

Open Country Dairy Limited in Waharoa, near Matamata, has been fined $221,250 for the odour release, and for unlawfully discharging wastewater, impacting on a local river.

It is the largest fine imposed for any prosecution taken under the Resource Management Act in the Waikato region.   

The Waikato Regional Council said the case was brought against the company following numerous complaints from local businesses and residents of Waharoa, near Matamata, through two periods in 2018. 

Residents reported that there had been ongoing, persistent and objectionable odour, describing a range of debilitating effects from having to keep doors and windows shut through to headaches and vomiting.

Waikato Regional Council responded to the complaints and launched a formal investigation, finding that the odour events were connected to the failure of the company's wastewater pond liner. 

As a result, contamination of the Waitoa River also occurred.  

The council's investigations and incident response manager, Patrick Lynch said it wasn't the first time Open Dairy Country had been in trouble.

"This is the fifth prosecution of this company, or its predecessor, relating to unlawful discharges into the environment," he said.

"We have the greatest sympathy for the Waharoa community who have to try living with the terrible impacts this stench has caused."

The convictions and fine were imposed last week in the Morrinsville District Court by Judge Melanie Harland, who stated that the odour's impact on residents was "profound and, of their kind, serious".

Judge Harland also issued an enforcement order, which the company agreed to, prohibiting further objectionable odour from the site. 

The order also requires the company to have a Community Communication Plan to keep the community and council informed of any issues at the plant that may result in objectionable odour being discharged.