New Zealand

Toxic smelter waste must go – campaigner

Tiwai aluminium smelter should take back thousands of tonnes of toxic waste left in dumps around Southland, a campaigner says. At least 24,000 tonnes of partially-processed smelter waste has been stockpiled in Mataura and Invercargill since the processing company Taha International went into liquidation 18 months ago. The waste was partially processed into a product called Ouvea Premix, but was never finished into fertiliser as Taha had promised. It was time for the company liquidator to admit defeat and hand the material back to the smelter and Government to resolve, Bluff campaigner Cherie Chapman said. Ms Chapman raised the issue as part of her unsuccessful campaign for Labour in the Clutha-Southland electorate in this year's general election. She has organised a public meeting in Invercargill on 4 December. "The smelter company has been too passive and left the Southland community with a major hazard", Ms Chapman said. "It's highly toxic to water life." 10,000 tonnes is stored in one-tonne bags in the former Mataura paper mill, which is right next to the Mataura river. "If water gets on it, there's a huge ammonia cloud that forms and Mataura would have to be evacuated", Ms Chapman said. "If it catches fire you can't put water on it, so there are real civil defence implications." The Taha liquidators should declare the waste an "onerous asset", and involve the smelter, local and regional councils, and central government in a joint plan to dispose of all the material, said Ms Chapman. "We're saying it's been sitting around in sheds long enough, time for some action from our leaders." Disposal call "reckless" Ms Chapman's call is "a rather reckless statement to make", said one of the Taha liquidators, Rhys Cain of the firm EY. "You don't just to pick this stuff up and put it on the back of a truck." "We're only going to get one chance to move this stuff. We have to be cautious and we are not operating to Cherie Chapman's timeframe. She has neither the skills nor the experience," he said. The material had no value and could not be sold, so the liquidators were trying to work out how to dispose of it and meet all regulations. Mr Cain asked for the public to trust the process and give it more time. "We have found several places that are interested in taking it. Most have fallen through but we are still very actively pursuing our main option to ship all of it offshore," Mr Cain said. Samples of the material had been sent overseas and they were hoping to agree a deal in the next few weeks, he said. "Yep it's taking some time, but the product is safely stored. We're complying with regulations. It's being monitored by the authorities and including Environment Southland. "We are going to get the best solution that we can." The only time there had been any safety risk was when one of the Awarua stockpiles was deliberately sabotage by unknown persons unknown, Mr Cain said, though he would not give further details. The Tiwai smelter company New Zealand Aluminium Smelters would not give an interview on the Taha waste piles today, but issued a statement from its chief executive, Gretta Stephens. "NZAS supports the actions of the liquidator and owner of Taha's assets to continue working to find an end user for the material. While this process is taking some time it represents the best possible solution," Ms Stephens said.


Farmers ‘fed up’ with environmental commotion

Dairy farmers are facing mixed environmental advice coming from all quarters, and some of it is not terribly helpful, a sharemilker says. Matamata farmer Matthew Zonderop said farmers know the impact their business can create. He said most farmers were doing their level-best to improve their environmental footprint and mitigate situations that are arising. "Yes, we understand [the issues] but we don't need to be told how to farm in every situation now." Mr Zonderop believes young and older farmers had different views. "Definitely a generational thing now." He said one of the main problems was a lack of consistency in environmental rules managed by regional councils. He did not believe there was strong enough leadership on environmental issues from farming leaders. "There isn't enough direction and leadership." Mr Zonderop said mixed messages from central and local government did not help. "They need to be co-ordinated more and go through a central governing body to start making these measures more firm throughout the country." He said farmers were getting very tired of having the finger pointed at them constantly and blamed for environmental issues such as water quality. "Farmers on the whole are pretty fed up with it." "We know we have made mistakes, made by generations past, and through science and technology these mistakes are being brought to the forefront now and we are well aware of it and we are reducing our footprint," he said. Mr Zonderop said urban people needed to look closer to home to see just what sort of environmental problems there were in their own backyard.


Astronomers baffled by strangely shaped asteroid

An asteroid that visited us from interstellar space is one of the most elongated cosmic objects known to science, a study has shown. Discovered on 19 October, the object's speed and trajectory strongly suggested it originated in a planetary system around another star. Astronomers have been scrambling to observe the unique space rock, known as 'Oumuamua, before it fades from view. Their results so far suggest it is at least 10 times longer than it is wide. That ratio is more extreme than that of any asteroid or comet ever observed in our Solar System. Using observations from the Very Large Telescope in Chile, Karen Meech, from the Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Hawaii, and colleagues determined that the object was about 400m long, rapidly rotating and subject to dramatic changes in brightness. These changes in brightness were the clue to 'Oumuamua's bizarre shape. "Looking at the asteroid light curve database, there are five objects (out of 20,000) that have light curves that would suggest a shape up to an axis ratio of about 7-8 to 1," Dr Meech told the BBC. "Our errors are very small, so we are confident this is really elongated. Also, one has to realise we don't know where the rotation pole is pointed. We assumed that it was perpendicular to the line of site. If it were tipped over at all, then there are projection effects and the 10:1 is a minimum. It could be more elongated!" But in other respects, 'Oumuamua (pronounced oh MOO-uh MOO-uh), appears to resemble objects we know from closer to home. "We also found that it had a reddish colour, similar to objects in the outer Solar System, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it," Dr Meech said. These properties suggest that 'Oumuamua is dense, comprised of rock and possibly metals, has no water or ice, and that its surface was reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over long periods of time. Although 'Oumuamua formed around another star, scientists think it could have been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our Solar System. "For decades we've theorised that such interstellar objects are out there, and now - for the first time - we have direct evidence they exist," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Nasa's science mission directorate in Washington DC. "This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study formation of solar systems beyond our own." If planets form around other stars the same way they did in the Solar System, many objects the size of 'Oumuamua should get slung out into space. The interstellar visitor may provide the first evidence of that process. As regards how 'Oumuamua became so elongated, Dr Meech explained: "There has been speculation among various team members about this. Sometimes very elongated objects are contact binaries... but even so, the pieces would be longer than most things in the Solar System, and our analysis shows that it is rotating fast enough that they should not stay together. "One of our team wondered if, during a planetary system formation, if there was a large collision between bodies that had molten cores, some material could get ejected out and then freeze in an elongated shape. "Another team member was wondering if there could be some process during the ejection - say if there was a nearby supernova explosion that could be responsible." The cosmic interloper was discovered by Rob Weryk, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Astronomy and a co-author of the new study, which is published in Nature journal. Weryk and fellow Institute for Astronomy researcher Marco Micheli realised it was going extremely fast (with enough speed to avoid being captured by the Sun's gravitational pull) and was on a very eccentric trajectory taking it out of our Solar System. The asteroid's name, 'Oumuamua, means "a messenger from afar arriving first" in Hawaiian. - BBC

New Zealand

MPI extends Kaikōura coast fishing ban

The emergency closure of some fisheries along the Kaikōura coast is being extended. Fishing was banned along 130km of the coast soon after last November's earthquake, to help the marine environment recover. Steve Halley from the Ministry for Primary Industries said the earthquakes had a devastating effect on the coastline and it needed more time to heal. The restricted area is from between Marfell's Beach, 43km south of Blenheim down to the Conway River, south of Kaikōura. Mr Halley said the loss of the fishing grounds had added pressure to surrounding areas, and asked that people take only what they need.


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