No word on cause of toxic spill in North Canterbury


A sign put up by Environment Canterbury on September 1. PHOTO: SHELLEY TOPP
A sign put up by Environment Canterbury on September 1. PHOTO: SHELLEY TOPP
Whitebaiters are upset it’s taking so long to clean up North Canterbury’s Saltwater Creek.

Kelly Sintes, a long-time whitebaiter, says fishers are ‘‘really upset’’ over the delay in getting toxicology reports and declaring the creek safe following a spill into the waterway from the Daiken fibreboard factory at Sefton on Friday, September 1.

The spill, which happened on the first day of the whitebaiting season, rendered many favourite fishing spots out of bounds, and killed fish.

Mr Sintes says the situation is creating ‘‘bad blood’’ between whitebaiters, Environment Canterbury (ECan) and people at the factory.

ECan put up signs warning people not to gather mahinga kai, fish and keep animals away from Saltwater Creek, the wider Saltwater Creek estuary and the northern parts of the wider Ashley/Rakahuri estuary.

‘‘Surely Daiken has the history on record of what the discharge is,’’ Mr Sintes says.

‘‘Therefore there would be no need to wait for toxicology reports, and for ECan to be dragging its knuckles,’’ says Mr Sintes.

Meanwhile whitebaiters are watching time tick away on an already shortened season under new regulations.

Mr Sintes says this is forcing some to turn to other rivers to fish for the delicacy, upsetting long-established fishers who had been fishing those waters for years.

The North Canterbury News has learnt some whitebaiters and fishers are ignoring the warning signs along the waterway as the water in the creek has cleared. Mr Sintes says there was now no sign of the spill.

‘‘Whitebaiters are frustrated and some are fishing anyway. Fish are coming up the river and are not dying,’’ he says.

ECan rangers says while the situation may be frustrating for people who want to fish for whitebait in the creek and estuary ‘‘it is very important that you do not consume fish, whitebait or shellfish from the area’’.

They asked people to obey the signs, and share the message with anyone else who may be intending to fish there.

‘‘We are still waiting for key test results from our water sampling.

‘‘The laboratory we are working with has indicated these may not be ready until next week at the earliest. We appreciate this may be frustrating, but public health remains the priority.’’

ECan’s Waimakariri zone delivery lead, Nerida Theinhardt, says that although parts of the waterway may no longer show visible signs of the spill, they still need key results from their water sampling before they can give the all­clear.

‘‘Until then, it is important that people and animals avoid contact with the water in Saltwater Creek and the wider Saltwater Creek estuary and Ashley/ Rakahuri estuary.’’

Daiken NZ meanwhile, has declined to comment on what caused the toxic wastewater and effluent spill from its medium­density fibreboard (MDF) production factory, or what the substance was.

The company reported the spill to ECan on September 1, and says it is continuing to co-­operate fully with the regional council.

Daiken says it is not in a position to comment further while investigations are under way.

The company’s operations director, Duncan Ward, says Daiken has ensured its wastewater and discharge system is working properly, and within its consent requirements.

By Shelley Topp and Robyn Bristow