Tanning company fined for toxic leak

Tasman Tanning has been fined and ordered to pay reparations totalling $163,000 in the aftermath of a toxic leak from its Wanganui plant.

The company appeared for sentencing today in Whanganui District Court having earlier admitted failing to ensure employees' safety on November 2, 2012 when 21 workers were exposed to hydrogen sulphide after a mix-up of chemicals at the Tod St plant.

Two workers were in hospital for a week.

Judge Phil Gittos fined the company $73,000 and ordered it to pay reparation totalling $90,000 to six staff members. Some reparation has already been paid.

The charge was brought by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

The two worst affected victims had to be ventilated before being flown to Wellington Hospital on the night of incident in a critical condition after being exposed to hydrogen sulphide in the chemical leak.

Another 19 people exposed to the gas were assessed at Wanganui Hospital, a DHB spokeswoman said.

Hydrogen sulphide is a colourless, poisonous, flammable gas. It has a strong smell, similar to rotten eggs.

The chemical can affect lungs and breathing.

Police, St John and the fire service attended the incident, with multiple ambulances and the fire service's hazardous materials unit. A decontamination unit was also set up. Tasman Tanning workers, some of them attended to by paramedics, had sat or lay on the grass outside the factory as the drama unfolded.

People living and working in the area said the first they knew of the incident was a very strong smell of sulphur.

One woman, who lived on Heads Rd not far from the factory, said the smell was "enough to make you dry retch".

Tasman Tanning supplies leather to manufacturers around the world. The family-operated business has been in operation since 1953.

- By Melissa Wishart of the Wanganui Chronicle

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