Green Party MP and toxics spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty has organised a public meeting in Bay View on Wednesday to discuss fumes from Pan Pac mill, despite the offending kiln being shut down for a Worksafe investigation.

The mill was using a centuries-old technique of heating wood, stopping short of burning it, to change its colour and increase durability.

The $2.5 million kiln, imported about two years ago for the process, has previously been shut down due to health and safety concerns about gas emissions.

In February last year it was shut down because of reported rashes and other ailments which staff and neighbours feared were caused by emissions.

Advertisement

In April the discovery of engineering issues meant the kiln was shut down except for testing purposes.

In August tests showed levels of pollutants were well below recommended guidelines when the kiln was operating normally but acrolein and acetic acid levels could exceed standards if a burner used to eliminate noxious gases stopped working during kiln operation.

In February this year the kiln malfunctioned and four workers required medical attention, with one taken to hospital.

The Green Party called for Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse to direct WorkSafe to investigate.

Union members took strike action, refusing to load wood into the kiln.

At the time Pan Pac general manager Doug Ducker said a valve had failed and the kiln had operated for the previous few months with no issue.

Pan Pac is one of Hawke's Bay's biggest employers with one of the most unionised workplaces in the country at its Whirinaki mill north of Napier.

"Other mills around the world that use these kilns either isolate them from the rest of the plant and community, or ensure sophisticated filtering systems that capture the fumes," Ms Delahunty said.

"After considerable work and industrial action by FIRST Union members and a public statement of support from the Green Party which called for Worksafe 'to step up and investigate', the kiln has been shut down and is being properly investigated. This should have happened months ago."

She said Bay of Plenty sawmill workers and their families were poisoned by the anti-stain chemical PCP, causing long-term health effects "and decades of struggle by the sawmill workers to get support and recognition for their health issues".

"This should never happen again."

Mr Ducker was overseas and could not be contacted to comment on this story.

In the past he has disputed claims of negligence, saying the company was focused on safety and had the track record to prove it.

- A public meeting will be held this Wednesday, March 23 in the Bay View Hotel Hall at 7pm.