Concerns have been raised about the health effects of a scrap yard on nearby residents. PHOTO/SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI
Zoning blamed for woman’s annoyance
A woman said a Masterton scrapyard is exceeding noise limits and emitting toxic fumes, but the scrapyard owner said it’s just not true.
Wairarapa Scrap Metals was in discussions with Masterton District Council about noise complaints, but Essex St resident Alison Sutherland said progress was slow.
“The noise has steadily increased since 2019, but I’ve been distressed by it over the past few months,” she said.
Now retired, Sutherland was previously a severe behaviour specialist for the Ministry of Education. She was particularly concerned for the children at Masterton West Kindergarten.
“I’m very mindful of the effect of peripheral noise on children,” she said, “We really do have children out there that are suffering.”
The noise, which had briefly died down over the holiday period, started up again a few weeks ago.
She said most of the issues were caused by a particular shredder, which was put into use at the yard in October 2019.
“They stop noise sometimes, but the smell doesn’t go away.”
Sutherland’s husband said he recognised the smell from his time as an engineer.
“My impression is that the pollution coming from the scrap metal dealers property is that it is hazardous waste as opposed to clean waste. I have seen and smelt the fumes emitting from the site. Some are familiar. I suspect they are the result of car foam insulations being burnt … it smells like isocyanates in the air which I was exposed to for decades and am highly allergic to,” he said.
“I believe the nearby residents, including preschool children attending the nearby kindergarten, are being systematically poisoned by the fumes and smoke … I believe the health department should be involved and that together with the councils, the site should be closely monitored and controlled.”
Sutherland had contacted multiple agencies about the issue but said no one seemed able to help.
“Masterton District Council said let us know when [the smoke] is there and visible,” she said, “Effectively it was too hard.”
A council representative told her he had visited the area twice after complaints had been lodged. His noise readings showed the constant hum of machinery was within the acceptable limit, but loud clangs would exceed it, she said.
“Are you talking average? Are you allowing those 80-decibel clangs?” Sutherland said, “I had a real sense that he was powerless.”
Greater Wellington Regional Council told Sutherland it was an MDC issue. “They too are relatively powerless.”
Sutherland acknowledged the yard was in an industrial area.
“They’re not the enemy here,” she said, “They have to make noise… that’s fair and proper.
“Most industrial areas in New Zealand are not so close to residential areas.”
Sutherland had heard “numerous” complaints and said there was passive resistance within the community. She wanted to see a discussion held between neighbours and the scrapyard.
“I think the problem seems too big,” she said.
“All houses bordering are ex-state houses. Many of them can’t afford to double-glaze and nor should they have to.”
An immediate solution was to put up concrete sound barrier, she said, and to regulate the scrap pile’s height.
However, scrapyard owner Terry O’Brien said a large enough wall was “unachievable” and would not block the noise.
While they tried to be considerate, they also had a business to run and did so legally, he said. The yard was looking into soundproofing options.
The machine which made the majority of the noise was only run from 8.30am to 4.30pm on Monday to Friday.
“We knock off for an hour at lunch and don’t run Friday afternoon,” O’Brien said.
“We don’t want to fall out with our neighbours … we live here too.”
The scrap had been moved away from the part of the property nearest the residential area, which may have contributed to an increase in noise, he said.
When asked if the machine’s emissions were toxic, O’Brien said “the regional council doesn’t think so’.
He said smoke might be visible if an oily motor or airbag was put through the machine, however, any emissions had been through a “half-a-million-dollar filtration system” first.
“It’s not just straight up the pipe,” O’Brien said, “It goes through water filtration and clean air comes out.
“They install these machines in cities. There’s one right in the middle of Christchurch.”
He had met both the regional and district council about the issue, with the latter confirming they were operating legally he said.
O’Brien said the issue had been dragged out for a few months and he was “over it”. The business had been operating from the premises for 36 years and now employed 20 people.
“We are trying to be fair and they don’t understand that,” O’Brien said, “We’ve paid rates on that land for 30-odd years.”
The machine was still the only one of its type in the lower North Island.
“It’s all scrap metal. It’s not rubbish,” he said, “Everybody wants to live in a green world but ‘not in my backyard’.”
He said the scrapyard was bearing the brunt of residential upset, which should be aimed at the wider industrial area or the council.
The railways also contributed to noise and smell, and had cut down trees which had previously obscured some of the scrap, he said.
A nearby company stored odorous dead calves. Dry topsoil from another property was often blown about in the wind.
When asked whether council zoning was the reason for the disagreement, O’Brien said: “Obviously that’s the problem”.
He could not see an immediate solution, unless the whole industrial area was moved.
“You look at the whole of Masterton, and really there’s no future-proofing there, as far as zoning’s concerned.”
The same thing was happening across the road, and at Edwin Feist Place, where an industrial company was building next to a residential area, O’Brien said.
He invited anyone who was concerned to come and visit the yard directly.
“I think everyone gets quite a different perspective when they’re here,” he said, “If somebody can come up with a solution that’s workable, we’ll look at it.”
A Regional Public Health spokesperson confirmed they were aware of the scrapyard and had received a query through the Ministry of Health website. It was recognised that exposure to unwanted noise or odours could lead to health effects in some people, they said.
“Unwanted sound can lead to annoyance, stress-related effects or sleep disturbance, make normal speech difficult to hear, or concentration difficult and interfere with learning.
“Exposure to unpleasant odours can cause physical symptoms [eg nausea and headaches] and can be stressful and frustrating. For some people, stress can be associated with feeling
Public Health’s medical officer of health Dr Stephen Palmer confirmed the district council was the lead agency for the issue.
“We can ask questions and seek reports from councils and work in partnership with them to reduce potential risks to the health of the community,” he said.
“In regards to the scrap metal yard, we are currently in conversation with MDC and may be able to provide specialist advice on the level of risk and the management of that risk.
“If people’s health is genuinely being affected and all other avenues have been exhausted, then MDC is required by the Health Act to take action.”
Higher noise levels were more of a concern during the night time, Palmer said.
“It’s more so when it happens at night,” he said, “During the day it’s more of a nuisance than a health effect.
“The issue of odour appears to be new, however, the above pathways still apply.”
Public Health would continue to monitor the situation, he said.
Council strategic planning manager Angela Jane said the scrapyard land had been zoned industrial since at least 1973, during the days of the Masterton Borough Council.
“The scrap metals operation has also been on the site for decades, as have houses nearby [to the east of the railway line],” she said.
“There are no safety concerns with this proximity.
“MDC has received a number of calls about noise from the Wairarapa Scrap Metals site over the past 12 months [around a dozen], most from properties some distance from the site. These appear to coincide with the arrival of new shredding machinery.”
While noise limits were set out in the Wairarapa Combined District Plan, the Resource Management Act set out “existing use” rights for businesses operating before the plan was developed. Zoning would also have been considered when the plan was developed in 2011.
“The council has monitored noise levels at multiple sites on two occasions in the past 12 months, and at times levels have intermittently exceeded limits in the WCDP,” Jane said.
“The council and the operator are in discussion about possible solutions to the noise issue and these may be in place [this] year.”
She said the 1973 zoning allowed all industrial activity except those posing environmental or other risks. The scrapyard was a permitted activity under the district plan.
“Work has just begun on reviewing the WCDP, and the community will have the opportunity to make submissions [including on issues such as zoning] when a draft plan is available for submissions.”