Rena's toxic legacy | The Jackal

10 Oct 2012

Rena's toxic legacy

Today, the NZ Herald reported:

Just over a year after the Rena struck the Astrolabe Reef in the Bay of Plenty, containers of hazardous substances still lie beneath the water.

The Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee, has confirmed the contents of three containers of cryolite, a byproduct of the aluminium smelting process, have been lost at sea.

The location of a further 17 containers with cryolite is not known.

Mr Brownlee said it was not possible to state with certainty how many of these containers remained within the wreck in cargo holds.

Why haven't they sent a diver down to see what containers remain in the Rena's cargo hold and then check the shipping manifest to see what is in these containers? Clearly they should have done this already and Brownlee's excuse doesn't wash.

A risk assessment provided to the Government stated cryolite posed "both an immediate and long-term pollution hazard to marine organisms and plants". But scientists had advised Maritime New Zealand that a number of factors suggested the risk could be reduced.

Cryolite was only slightly soluble in water and the rate of release was expected to be diminished because of packaging. It broke down to naturally occurring elements - mainly aluminium and fluoride - which became less harmful in seawater because of reactions with other naturally abundant elements.

The scientific evidence that the synthetic cryolite that was onboard the Rena will become less toxic in seawater is based on pure speculation. It's all dependent on how fast it dissipates in the water, and they haven't bothered to find this out.

Cryolite is sometimes used as an insecticide, and works by poisoning the stomach of any insects that eat foliage. It has been found to be highly toxic to aquatic organisms and especially shellfish.

Currently produced in Japan from sodium aluminate, ammonium fluoride and sodium hydroxide, which are known to be toxic to aquatic life and carcinogenic/neurotoxic in humans, Cryolite is not meant to be used in conjunction with other chemicals such as lime because it causes phototoxicity.

Clearly Cryolite is not as benign as they would want us to believe.

Maritime New Zealand began an investigation when it found cryolite had been loaded onto the Rena in Bluff without being classified as a dangerous substance.

The agency decided not to prosecute the manufacturer after it alerted authorities to the error and co-operated to address the gap in its processes.

The agency decided not to prosecute because it evidently doesn't give a damn about marine safety. Neither does the National government, who is not interested in compulsory shipping lanes that might ensure another Rena disaster doesn't occur again.

The contents of containers carrying ferrosilicon and one of potassium nitrate are also thought to have been lost at sea.

Another container of 5400kg of trichloroisocyanuric acid was on the seabed next to the wreck in March, but has not been recovered.

How fucked is that? They're just leaving all these dangerous chemicals in the ocean to slowly leach out and pollute the entire East coast, presumably because it would cost a lot of money to recover the hazardous shipping containers and dispose of their dangerous contents.

Meanwhile the "scientific" studies that have been conducted so far have only looked at the effects of hydrocarbons from the heavy fuel oil and none of the other substances the Rena was carrying that are known to be dangerous. Anybody would think they're trying to bloody well wreck the environment on purpose.

Maritime New Zealand is still refusing to release the Rena's full inventory (citing commercially sensitive information), which would let us know exactly what was onboard. You've got to wonder if the bad news about the Rena disaster is only going to get worse.