Bromley stench unlikely to cause long-term problems, says Canterbury health official

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Canterbury public health chiefs admit that those suffering from the Bromley stink are going through hell, but beware a health register may not be the best way to monitor its impact. Photo / Provided

By Jean Edwards of RNZ

Canterbury public health chiefs admit that those suffering from the Bromley stink are going through hell, but beware a health register may not be the best way to monitor its impact.

People suffering from nausea, headaches and sleep disturbances are increasingly concerned about long-term exposure to sulfur gases from a fire-damaged sewage treatment plant in the suburbs.

But Canterbury Medical Officer Cheryl Brunton said while there was evidence people were suffering physically and mentally from the stench, long-term problems were ‘extraordinarily unlikely’ at current sulphide concentrations. of hydrogen.

Brunton District Health Board colleague Dr Lucy D’Aeth told a council committee it was clear people were struggling.

“For people who have an extremely sensitive sense of smell, it’s hell, we recognize that,” she said.

The council asked the DHB to consider establishing a health registry in response to community concerns about the lingering stench from the factory’s two burnt-out trickle filters and overloaded oxidation ponds.

The Christchurch sewage treatment plant caught fire last November.  Photo/George Heard
The Christchurch sewage treatment plant caught fire last November. Photo/George Heard

Brunton told the board’s finance and performance committee that a register would be difficult to set up and maintain and would not directly address the problem.

“People who suffer from the effects of the smell are actually very eager and anxious for this to be recognized. A health registry doesn’t really address people’s health needs,” she said.

“A registry is actually a pretty difficult and clumsy way of making sure people have access to care.”

The most common symptoms reported to GPs were nausea, headache, eye, throat and skin irritation, worsening asthma and trouble sleeping, Dr Brunton said.

“All of these are very consistent with exposure, particularly to hydrogen sulfide, at the kinds of concentrations that are being measured as part of council monitoring,” she said.

She said patients also reported feelings of considerable distress, frustration and helplessness.

Although long-term health effects are unlikely to persist at the concentrations measured so far, Dr Brunton said some people will remain particularly sensitive to odors.

“They might experience some of these health effects at very low levels in the future,” she said.

“For these people, it may be that even if the health effects improve, they don’t go away completely.”

Staff at the treatment plant are still working on a system to do the job of the two trickle filters, but expect it to be complete by next week.

Helen Beaumont, head of the Tri-Waters Council, said it would take at least six weeks for the smell of the oxidation ponds to improve.

“We have to wait three weeks for the biomass to establish, and then it will take at least another three weeks and maybe a bit longer for the water to flow through those six ponds,” she said.

“It takes about a month for the water to pass completely.”

Beaumont said the sewage discharged into the sea did not meet environmental standards, but tests showed it did not affect water quality at the beach.

– RNZ

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