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Meat processing company fined £176,000 for ammonia leak

26 February 2021

A meat processing company in New Zealand has been fined $337,500 (£176,000) after an ammonia leak in February. The leak at the Silver Fern Farms plant in Hawera on the southwest coast of New Zealand’s North Island contaminated a local stream, killing scores of fish and eels.

Taranaki Regional Council (TRC), which brought two charges against Silver Fern Farms, said the fine is the largest on record for an environmental offence. TRC said the fine sends a very strong message that the community will not tolerate actions that damage or threaten waterways and the species in them.

The leak at Silver Fern Farms on February 19 resulted in discharges of ammonia to the air and to the local Tawhiti Stream. The contaminated water killed scores of fish along a 13km stretch of water – the widest extent of any such incident on record, the TRC said. Although the plant has hundreds of employees and contractors, only one engineer was injured during the incident after they suffered an ammonia burn.

Silver Fern Farms pleaded guilty to one charge of discharging a contaminant into the air and one charge of discharging a contaminant onto land in circumstances that allowed it to enter water when appearing before the Environment Court in Hawera on February 24. TRC Director-Resource Management, Fred McLay, said the ruling was highly significant and highlights the serious environmental and cultural impacts on the Tawhiti Stream.

McLay added that: “Staff and others were also put at risk. The agreed facts put before the Court show the Company did not have adequate contingencies in place to deal with malfunctions in its industrial-grade blast-freezer plants. All consent holders should take note and check their own contingency plans and staff training.”

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