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Unsafe arsenic levels ruled out

Arsenate of lead was widely used as an insecticide in apple orchards from the late 1800s through to the mid-1900s. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES



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Subdivision sites on two former orchards in Greytown have recorded results of arsenic within national health standards, but a third has never been tested.

Recently, it was revealed that two sites earmarked for residential development in Greytown were contaminated with arsenic.

A section on the corner of Mole St and Wood St had a reading of 71mg/kg, a little more than four times over the National Environmental Standard (NES) for arsenic at residential and lifestyle blocks of 17mg/kg.

The old Tate’s Orchard on Kuratawhiti St was also found to be contaminated with the toxin at 27mg/kg.

In light of this, the Times-Age asked whether other developments in the town on former orchards could also be tainted by arsenic.

Soil testing was carried out at the Totara Grove and James Kidd Place subdivisions, with the results found to be within safe levels — 12mg/kg and 11mg/kg respectively.

However, soil at an older subdivision was never assessed.

Before the NES soil regulations were introduced in 2011, Homestead Orchard on Udy St, Greytown, was subdivided into 14 lots.

This property was owned by Martin Napier and his wife, Viv Napier, who is now Mayor of South Wairarapa.

Mrs Napier confirmed no soil testing was carried out before the land was sold off in 1997.

“There was nothing required at that stage, [arsenic] wasn’t even on the radar,” she said.

Tomlinson & Carruthers Surveyors Ltd are developing Totara Grove at 18 Orchard Rd, off West St, into 42 lots.

Jason Carruthers said “full soil tests” were carried out on the land that was formerly Tasman Orchard, which was purchased from former MP John Hayes late last year.

“It all came in below the new risk levels [for arsenic],” Mr Carruthers said.

“It was all fine, and we didn’t have to do any remedial works.”

Steve Meyrick’s 1.8ha subdivision, James Kidd Place, on Pinehaven Orchard, off Kuratawhiti St is nearing completion.

The soil was tested for contaminants in 2010, with the results for arsenic “well within the acceptable levels”.

Mr Meyrick said there were no spray mixing sheds on the section of the orchard that was being subdivided.

His grandfather bought the orchard in the mid-1950s from the estate of James Hutton Kidd.

SWDC planning and environment manager Murray Buchanan said the high arsenic reading at the corner section of Mole St and Wood St could be due to a “hot spot”.

Council contractors would be carrying out further investigations to see if this was the case.

Arsenate of lead was widely used as an insecticide in the agricultural industry from the late 1800s through to the mid-1900s.

As a result, many orchards are contaminated with the poison, which can be hazardous to human health.

Richard Harding was the manager of Tate’s Orchard from 1969 to 1983.

Now 95, Mr Harding said arsenate of lead was never used while he was in charge.

“Old man Tate, he used it, but not out of malice, because that was the thing that was used.”

When Mr Harding took over the orchard he found two sacks of arsenate of lead on site.

“I wanted to get rid of it so I got hold of the government and they eventually took the sacks of powder away.

“We never used it once.”


Orchards known for ‘hotspots’

Massey University Associate Professor in soil and earth sciences Chris Anderson said orchards were notorious for having arsenic hot spots.

This was because the chemical was commonly dumped onto the ground, instead of being disposed of safely.

Dr Anderson said when an arsenic level such as 71mg/kg was discovered, it didn’t necessarily mean the entire site was a problem.

It just means “you have to start asking questions”.

During a soil examination, several samples are taken across an area in a pattern.

These samples are bulked together into a composite sample that is representative of the whole area.

He explained that of 10 samples, nine of them may have arsenic readings within the national standards.

“You might then have one sample that’s collected from an area where someone’s poured out a container of arsenic pesticide . . . all of a sudden you have a very small, isolated spot that might be 1000mg/kg.”

Mixing this sample with the other nine skews the result, and falsely implies the entire area is tarnished by one hot spot, which could be remediated by replacing the section of soil.

Dr Anderson said as a rule arsenic was not taken up by vegetation, however it was wise not to grow food in contaminated soil as the dust was harmful.

Children were at greater risk of being exposed to arsenic as they were more likely to be in direct contact with soil, playing on the ground and sometimes eating dirt.




  1. This is really interesting…my sister and I have both agreed that there seemed to be an unusually high number of premature cancer related deaths in Greytown…especially along the ‘westerlie line’…we lived in Wood street,number 10,and you could smell the sprays from the orchards,particulaly in a north westerly. Of course we were all bought up on our local apples,which were never washed,or peeled. A couple of the names that spring to mind are Richard Pearce, Claire Feast, Irene Pope, and Richard Thompson(our brother,aged 31 at his death in 1988).

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