Mapua apple-growers chemical plant
This is a Your Story submitted as an opinion piece to the Prow website, for further documentation on the issue refer to Tasman District Council reports
Decontamination of the Mapua Fruit-growers Chemical plant
In 1931 the Mapua fruit-growers chemical plant was founded by Arthur McKee and his two sons, in the old apple cool store next to the Mapua wharf. It was a logical site to set up a chemical factory here as it was next to the Mapua port, a main distribution point for pip-fruit exports. They started off making spraying oils and lime sulphur and after they were given a government grant they developed a new factory in the late 1930's.
During its time the factory made chemicals like DDT, DDD, and dealt with chemicals like 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D - the latter being a component of the spray Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War and the cause for birth defects in the children of soldiers exposed to it. By the late 1970's the plant was using 124 chemicals to make 84 different kinds of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. In 1988 it closed its doors after its bid to expand the plant was denied. Due to spills and some waste being buried on the site, persistent pesticides made at this factory remained at high concentrations in parts of the site.1
There was also a concern that chemical waste had been buried in other places apart from the known landfill. Because these chemicals don't break down very quickly they can remain in the soil for long periods of time, which is why investigations were launched into testing the site and then decontaminating it.
In June 2001 Environmental Decontamination Limited (EDL) was awarded the job of decontaminating the site. The remediation took place in September 2004. The process used was very experimental. It involved excavating the soil, then separating it based on particle size. After drying in a rotary drier, it was mixed with quartz sand and other reagents before being wetted and returned back to the site.
By September 2008 the remediation of the old Fruit-growers chemical plant site was completed. The area had now been cleaned up. While the remediation occurred the people living nearby had to suffer from being exposed to the noise, dust and pollutants created by the clean up.
This remediation had many consequences for the local community. Living in Mapua during this time would have been very unpleasant, as there was much noise, dust, odour and possible pollution of ground water.
Several times during the remediation the noise created by the plant exceeded the levels permitted in the resource consent. On windy days huge clouds of contaminated dust would blow off the site and land on nearby properties. Nearby residents also complained of an acrid odour that wafted from the site.
When it became clear that it was the chimney stack causing the smell, "checks showed that the carbon filter had melted in places".2 This allowed potentially harmful gases to escape into the atmosphere and at the same time put the health of the Mapua community at risk.
The Parliamentary Commissioner's report indicated that the problems with the ground water "arose from the use of certain reagents during the remediation process, namely copper sulphate, diammonium phosphate and urea."3 As well as these toxic chemicals there was also seepage from the site where the contractors had dug wells to monitor the ground water. Exposure from these chemicals and toxins in the air has been known to cause birth defects and cancer, as well as many other diseases.
The residents' response to these unpleasant things was that they believed that the environment they were living in was causing them to become ill. Some residents living close to the site said "it's no coincidence the streaming eyes, runny noses, bleeding noses, sore throats, persistent coughs, high blood pressure and headaches they've experienced all started when the experimental clean up began"4.
Some decisions or actions made by either Tasman District Council or the contractors at the site had the potential to put the Mapua community at risk. One of these decisions was based around the carbon filter system used to catch the toxic emissions created by treating the soil. During the remediation process it failed numerous times, allowing toxic gases to bypass the filtration system. The application for the resource consent stated that the "filter system proposed had two carbon filters, but they have been operating with only one the entire time,"5 meaning it was not as effective as it was originally planned and probably led to the filter failing the number of times it did.
The filter was also completely removed at one point in an attempt to make the system less noisy and another time the main contractor tried to fix the filter with chicken wire after it "started losing its integrity"6. All this compromised the health and well being of the community.
Another potentially foolish judgement made at the site was when they demolished the old buildings. These buildings, known to have asbestos in their construction, were just pulled down showering local properties in thick dust. It is well known and documented that inhaling asbestos dust causes serious lung damage and respiratory diseases such as asbestosis.
In 2010, the government announced that it would fund free health checks for the community of Mapua after a long speculation that the remediation had caused people to be exposed to harmful toxins via the air, the dust blown off the piles of contaminated dirt and the pollutants in the ground water. There was certainly the potential for the health of the community to be compromised.7
Joss Trew, Nayland College, 2010
The cleanup of the site was completed in 2008. Subsequent audits and assessments of the process were critical of how work had been carried out.8 However, a public waterfront park and flourishing grass now covers seaside land at Mapua, which was previously New Zealand’s worst contaminated site – a legacy of decades of pesticide pollution by its former owners, the Fruitgrowers' Chemical Company (FCC).9 Mapua has also experienced rapid property growth and business development since the cleanup was completed and is a popular recreational destination.
Updated May 2020
Sources used in this story
- Former Fruit-Growers chemical Company site at Mapua (documents). Retrieved from Tasman District Council 19 August 2010:
- Kidson, S. (2007, May 12) Something in the air. Nelson Mail, Section: General, p. 15
- Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (2008) Investigation into the remediation of the contaminated site at Mapua, p.6.
- Kidson, S. (2012, May 19) Cleanup safety flawed, Nelson Mail on Stuff:
- Ministry for the Environment (2011) Cleaning up Mapua. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment. Retrieved May 2020:
- Ministry for the Environment. Mapua contaminated site cleanup. Retrieved May 2020:
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Further sources - Mapua apple-growers chemical plant
- Harris, Jill. (2011). Cleaning up Mapua: the story of the fruit growers chemical company site. Wellington, N.Z.: Ministry for the Environment.
(also held Nelson and Tasman Public Libraries)
- Kidson, S. (2007, May 12) Toxic clean-up rules breached. Nelson Mail, p.1
- Kidson, S. (2007, May 12) Something in the air. Nelson Mail, p.15
- Neal, T. (2003, May 31) Cleanup at Mapua due to start in the spring. Nelson Mail, p.3
- Assessment of Public Health Risk from the Remediation of the former Fruitgrowers Chemical Company site, Mapua, Nelson (March 2010) Retrieved 23 August 2010, from Ministry of Health.
- Cleaning up Mapua: The history of the Fruitgrowers' Chemical Company site (2011). Retrieved May 2020 from Ministry for the Environment
- Fisher, H. (2013) McKee, Tasman Joseph. From the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 19-Nov-2013
http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/5m17/mckee-tasman-joseph [established the Chemical Company in 1932 with father and brother]
- Audit of the remediation of the former Fruitgrowers Chemical Company site, Mapua (2009) Retrieved May 2020 from Ministry for the Environment:
- Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (2008) Investigation into the remediation of the contaminated site at Mapua. Retrieved 23 August 2010, from: