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The boss of a timber mill has played down the number of complaints lodged about its smoke emissions, pointing out the mill was once on the outskirts of town, but is now surrounded by houses. Sources: The Marlborough Express, Stuff NZ Neighbours of Timberlink in Burleigh, Blenheim have filed 18 complaints about smoke in the last four years, but only one resulted in punitive action, records requested under the Official Information Act reveal. Timberlink has to obey strict rules about releasing smoke from its kiln, where treated timber is flash-dried, including how dark the smoke is and the concentration of chemicals in the smoke. Dark smoke poured from the kiln’s smokestack for more than two minutes in August 2016, prompting four complaints and causing the Marlborough District Council to issue the standard $300 infringement notice. Neighbours of the mill described renewed fears about breathing the mill’s emissions after a proposed preschool nearby was turned down in November, over fears the emissions could harm the children. An NZ Air consultant told a commissioner at the preschool’s resource consent hearing the chemical compound CCA [chromated copper arsenate] released from the kiln’s smokestack was a carcinogen, and prolonged exposure could cause cancer. The commissioner said in his decision that he could not be sure Timberlink’s emissions would not be harmful to the children, even though the council said Timberlink was complying with its resource consent conditions. The conditions limited the concentration of CCA released into the air to 200 micrograms per cubic metre of discharge. But its annual emissions test in June gave a result of 224mg, with a margin of error of 45mg. Council compliance staff told Timberlink in August the result indicated the mill was not compliant, but would seek expert advice. Environet air quality scientist Emily Wilton told the compliance team a single test was more likely to show a result in error and the council should wait for 2018’s test results, “and see what the bigger picture is telling us with regards to their compliance”. Timberlink Australia chief executive Ian Tyson said on Friday he did not accept the mill was non-compliant. Mr Tyson had never seen test results in that range before and suspected it was an error, as Wilton suggested, he said. “It would be an aberation.” Timberlink bought the former Flight Timbers site about two years ago and had “done quite a lot of work” to ensure the mill was compliant, he said. “Our consent is at a level that we expect to be able to operate in … it’s only an extraordinary event that would push us over.” However there were many variables that could affect the concentration of chemicals in the emissions, and staff watched a measure to check levels in real time, Mr Tyson said. “It could be the fuel load, what type of fuel we’re utilising … Even when wood is wetter in winter, that affects our emissions. “We’re internally monitoring systems to ensure we’re staying within our levels, so if it’s reading a bit high we know about it straight away and can address that.” Compliance was not just about avoiding an infringement notice for Timberlink, Tyson said. “There are not a lot of companies you can point to that are doing the right thing by their communities, and adding value to the community. Well, we’re a key component in ours. We feel a responsibility to the communities we work in, both in a social sense and in an economic sense.” Mr Tyson was not surprised that there had been a series of complaints, he said. “We expect there will be complaints, because we’re in an area with a suburban sprawl. Sometimes there’s dust, and sometimes there’s noise.” Marlborough District Council compliance manager Gina Ferguson said it was unusual for a sawmill to be surrounded by houses. “That is likely to create more concerns. It’s not a normal location for a sawmill but it has been there a very long time.” Ms Ferguson would not comment on whether a result of 224mg should be of concern to the residents nearby, saying it was a question for an air quality expert. Correspondence between the air quality scientist and the compliance team revealed Ms Wilton had her doubts about whether the consent process really protected the health of residents. “[Timberlink’s consent] is worth reviewing in light of the National Environmental Standards review when it comes out, as I don’t think the health effects have been adequately assessed in the consent process,” Ms Wilton wrote. Ms Wilton declined to comment further when contacted on Friday. The NES air quality standards, set in 2004, were being amended by the Government, with changes to be announced later this year.

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