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Headline: Old Reefton mines to be cleaned up

New Zealand’s most toxic contaminated site located near Reefton in two old mines are to be cleaned up in a joint funding agreement between the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation totalling $3 million, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today in Reefton.

“The Prohibition and Alexander mine sites are acutely toxic and a blight on New Zealand’s clean, green reputation. The levels of arsenic are among the highest recorded anywhere in the world at 400,000 parts per million on land, or 500 times the safe level, and in water at 300 parts per million, or 33,000 times the safe limit for drinking water,” Dr Smith says.

“We need to clean up this site so as to prevent ongoing contamination to the surrounding environment and make the site safe for future generations.

“The Prohibition mine site was contaminated from the operation of a roasting plant from 1935 to 1951, when arsenic bearing ore was roasted to release gold. The sites also have high levels of mercury and cyanide. The mining company has long gone and the Department of Conservation inherited the site in 1987. The site has been fenced off to prevent public access and harm.

“The Ministry for the Environment is providing $1.5 million from the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund to assist the Department of Conservation with the $3 million clean-up. The Prohibition and Alexander sites currently rank numbers one and two on the Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund Priority List.

“The remediation of the site will involve cleaning the condensing tower, removing arsenic contaminated soil, securing the soil in sealed barrels in a water-tight pit and capping of the surface around the pit and tower. The remediation will also include a water treatment plant to protect surrounding natural water bodies from contaminants from the site.

“This contaminated site is the legacy of inadequate oversight and requirements of previous mining activities on the West Coast. We need to repair the environmental damage and clean up this site, but also ensure that we properly regulate mining activities today so as not to create more problems of this sort in the future,” Dr Smith concluded.

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