Tiwai smelter rejects claims there's a delay with Mataura toxic waste removal

The Matura paper mill.
The Matura paper mill. Photo credit: Newshub.

The smelter which produced toxic waste that eventually wound up stored in a small Southland town says the material is still being moved, despite reports to the contrary.

About 7000 tonnes of ouvea premix, which releases deadly ammonia gas when wet, remains in the disused paper mill in Mataura.

In 2018, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS) and Rio Tinto agreed with local councils and the government to remove the ouvea premix - a waste byproduct of aluminium production at Tiwai Point - over six years.

Flooding and fire at the site last year prompted the Environmental Defence Society to launch court action against the smelter's owners.

More than 10,000 tonnes was moved into the town by Taha Asia Pacific, a subsidiary of a Bahrain-based company, without resource consent before that company went out of business in 2016.

NZAS agreed to a deal brokered by the Environment Court last month to relocate the waste without accepting ownership.

Stuff reported on Monday that the removal of the ouvea premix had stopped in recent weeks due to logistical issues, but an NZAS spokesperson said the removal of the waste from the paper mill continued.

"Ouvea has been and is still leaving Mataura," the spokesperson said. "The target is still to remove all the material by the end of May (weather dependent).

"Over 1000 tonnes have been removed since the accelerated agreement was reached between the Crown and NZAS. That is in addition to the 2000 tonnes that had already been removed in 2019."

The smelter and the Ministry for the Environment split the estimated $1 million cost of expediting the removal of the dross from Mataura.