Concerns over Panpac Mill fumes

By Aroha Treacher
  • North Island: East Coast

The malfunction of a new state of the art kiln at the Panpac Mill in Whirinaki has seen the hazardous fumes it releases hospitalise some of its workers. It's an issue the company says it is working hard to resolve.

With 370 staff, it's the biggest private employer in Hawkes Bay but its malfunctioning kiln is causing havoc.

Green MP Catherine Delahunty says this process is affecting the community, “The fumes drift over the nearby houses so it affects not only people working at the plant but also residents who live nearby.”

According to Mike McNab from First Union it’s also impacting workers, “The effects on workers have been some kind of neurological problems, respiratory problems and skin disorders and we believe also that there's been secondary contact with children.”

Panpac has carried out extensive testing including interviewing over 100 staff from specialists to identify any issues caused to them.

“The concerns of the union and the union membership are quite real in that context but at the end of the day we've got to work through together it's a very good thing for the region it's a very good thing for the industry,” says Doug Ducker the Managing Director Panpac.

Panpac admits the kiln had many complexities to work through than first thought and confirm a major malfunction in February saw four workers needing serious medical attention.

Ducker says “It's the safety protocols that in this case didn't prove as robust as we believed they would've done, that failure on February 23 in itself could be expected to happen at any time but we should've failed safe in this case we didn't protect our workers when that failure occurred.”

Panpac’s new technology that turns pine into a hardwood through high temperature and uses no chemicals.

“This is new technology and potentially really good technology because we don't want to spray timber with chemicals we want to dry it properly but with any new technology you have to test it properly and not on human beings,” says Delahunty.

Locals and workers raised their concerns at a public meeting and Panpac say the kiln will be out of action until it is satisfied all safety requirements are met.

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