Former senior firefighter Kevin John Davies pleaded guilty in the Tauranga District Court for burning demolition waste material that contains some asbestos from two demolished houses at a residential subdivision site in Rotorua in June 2018.
He was sentenced to settle $14,000 in penalties, including a fine of $9000 and $5000 reparation he must pay to affected neighbours.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council issued a statement that said Davies was involved in two separate fires. The second took place after a regional council compliance officer had already been on site earlier on the same day in response to a complaint about the fire.
The burning of these materials was banned due to the environmental impacts this may cause. Furthermore, burning prohibited materials could lead to risks to human health.
Judge J A Smith said in his decision that he was “baffled” as to why Davies, decided to burn the demolition materials rather than taking it to a landfill and noted that doing so had not saved costs.
He also said that the case should act as a deterrent to others who thought that fire was a simple way of getting rid of materials they did not want
.“This is one of the worst air sheds in New Zealand and the discharge of these toxins into the air in Rotorua is a serious matter.”
Judge Smith highlighted these wider consequences for the Rotorua community.
The burning occurred in the Rotorua urban area, a polluted airshed, with a history of air quality issues, which the regional council and the community had invested in and worked hard to try and improve, the statement said.
Cleaner air makes a difference to the health of the community – especially the young, the elderly, and those with respiratory illnesses. Children are the most vulnerable as they breathe more rapidly than adults and so absorb more pollutants. On average, a person inhales about 14,000 litres of air every day and when the air people breathed was contaminated, it affected their health.
Alex Miller, Regional council compliance manager, said that Davies’ actions were “inexcusable” and undermined the community’s efforts to clean up Rotorua’s air.
“Burning waste to cut costs means the environment and human health ultimately pays the price and this prosecution demonstrates that isn’t acceptable,” he said.
Open burnings can cause health and safety risks to the environment and are not allowed within 100 metres of a neighbouring dwelling for urban and rural areas in the Bay of Plenty.
For the past 12 months there have been 573 open burning complaints across the Bay of Plenty. 15% of all complaints to the Pollution Hotline and 108 of those complaints were from Rotorua.
Details on the relevant Regional Air Plan rules are on the regional council website.
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