A Tauranga man has been prosecuted for burning demolition waste material, some that contained asbestos, at a residential subdivision site in Rotorua in June 2018.
Kevin John Davies pleaded guilty and was sentenced in the Tauranga District Court to $14,000 in penalties, including a fine of $9000 and $5000 reparation he must pay to affected neighbours.
A statement from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council said the offending involved two separate fires, with the second occurring 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 fires were lit to dispose waste material from two demolished houses at the site and contained plastics, carpet, insulation and some asbestos.
The burning of these materials was prohibited.
In addition to the environmental impacts, burning prohibited materials could have an impact on human health, as highlighted in this case by the orders that Davies was to pay reparation to affected neighbours.
In his sentencing decision, Judge J A Smith said he was "baffled" as to why Davies, a former senior firefighter, decided to burn the demolition materials rather than taking it to a landfill and noted that doing so had not saved costs.
Judge Smith said 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.
The burning occurred in the Rotorua urban area, a polluted air shed, 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.
Judge Smith highlighted these wider consequences for the Rotorua community.
"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."
Regional council compliance manager Alex Miller said the offending was "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 burning within 100m of a neighbouring dwelling was not allowed in urban and rural areas in the Bay of Plenty.
• Open burnings pose health and safety threats to the environment and cannot occur within 100 metres of a neighbouring dwelling for both rural and urban properties. For details on the relevant Regional Air Plan rules, please visit the regional council website.
• There have been 573 open burning complaints across the Bay of Plenty over the past 12 months to date. That has made up 15 per cent of all complaints to the Pollution Hotline and 108 of those complaints were from Rotorua.