Māpua apple-growers chemical plant


This is a Your Story submitted as an opinion piece to the Prow website, for further documentation on the issue refer to Tasman District Council reports

Decontamination of the Māpua Fruit-growers Chemical plant

In 1931 the Māpua fruit-growers chemical plant was founded by Arthur McKee and his two sons, in the old apple cool store next to the Māpua wharf. It was a logical site to set up a chemical factory here as it was next to the Māpua port, a main distribution point for pip-fruit exports. They started off making spraying oils and lime sulphur and after they were given a government grant they developed a new factory in the late 1930's.

The abandoned siteThe abandoned fruit growers' chemical site, Māpua (2008)

During its time the factory made chemicals like DDT, DDD, and dealt with chemicals like 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D - the latter being a component of the spray Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War and  the cause for birth defects in the children of soldiers exposed to it. By the late 1970's the plant was using 124 chemicals to make 84 different kinds of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. In 1988 it closed its doors after its bid to expand the plant was denied.   Due to spills and some waste being buried on the site, persistent pesticides made at this factory remained at high concentrations in parts of the site.1

There was also a concern that chemical waste had been buried in other places apart from the known landfill. Because these chemicals don't break down very quickly they can remain in the soil for long periods of time, which is why investigations were launched into testing the site and then decontaminating it.

In June 2001 Environmental Decontamination Limited (EDL) was awarded the job of decontaminating the site. The remediation took place in September 2004. The process used was very experimental. It involved excavating the soil, then separating it based on particle size. After drying in a rotary drier, it was mixed with quartz sand and other reagents before being wetted and returned back to the site.  

MCD Chemical plantThe 65-meter² MCD facility at Māpua encompasses units for soil/sediment multi-level screening, drying, and treatment within a mechano chemical reactor, along with an air emission control system.

By September 2008 the remediation of the old Fruit-growers chemical plant site was completed. The area had now been cleaned up. While the remediation occurred the people living nearby had to suffer from being exposed to the noise, dust and pollutants created by the clean up. 

This remediation had many consequences for the local community. Living in Māpua during this time would have been very unpleasant, as there was much noise, dust, odour and possible pollution of ground water.

Several times during the remediation the noise created by the plant exceeded the levels permitted in the resource consent.  On windy days huge clouds of contaminated dust would blow off the site and land on nearby properties.  Nearby residents also complained of an acrid odour that wafted from the site.

When it became clear that it was the chimney stack causing the smell, "checks showed that the carbon filter had melted in places".2 This allowed potentially harmful gases to escape into the atmosphere and at the same time put the health of the Māpua community at risk.

The Parliamentary Commissioner's report indicated that the problems with the ground water "arose from the use of certain reagents during the remediation process, namely copper sulphate, diammonium phosphate and urea."3 As well as these toxic chemicals there was also seepage from the site where the contractors had dug wells to monitor the ground water.  Exposure from these chemicals and toxins in the air has been known to cause birth defects and cancer, as well as many other diseases.

View through the fenceView through the fence looking at part of the remediation plant.

The residents' response to these unpleasant things was that they believed that the environment they were living in was causing them to become ill.  Some residents living close to the site said "it's no coincidence the streaming eyes, runny noses, bleeding noses, sore throats, persistent coughs, high blood pressure and headaches they've experienced all started when the experimental clean up began"4.

Some decisions or actions made by either Tasman District Council or the contractors at the site had the potential to put the Māpua community at risk. One of these decisions was based around the carbon filter system used to catch the toxic emissions created by treating the soil. During the remediation process it failed numerous times, allowing toxic gases to bypass the filtration system. The application for the resource consent stated that the "filter system proposed had two carbon filters, but they have been operating with only one the entire time,"5 meaning it was not as effective as it was originally planned and probably led to the filter failing the number of times it did.

The filter was also completely removed at one point in an attempt to make the system less noisy and another time the main contractor tried to fix the filter with chicken wire after it "started losing its integrity"6. All this compromised the health and well being of the community.

Another potentially foolish judgement made at the site was when they demolished the old buildings. These buildings, known to have asbestos in their construction, were just pulled down showering local properties in thick dust. It is well known and documented that inhaling asbestos dust causes serious lung damage and respiratory diseases such as asbestosis.

Aerial shot of the Māpua chemical plant site.

In 2010,  the government announced that it would fund free health checks for the community of Māpua after a long speculation that the remediation had caused people to be exposed to harmful toxins via the air, the dust blown off the piles of contaminated dirt and the pollutants in the ground water. There was certainly the potential for the health of the community to be compromised.7

Joss Trew, Nayland College, 2010

The cleanup of the site was completed in 2008. Subsequent audits and assessments of the process were critical of how work had been carried out.8 However, a public waterfront park and flourishing grass now covers seaside land at Māpua, which was previously New Zealand’s worst contaminated site – a legacy of decades of pesticide pollution by its former owners, the Fruitgrowers' Chemical Company (FCC).9 Māpua has also experienced rapid property growth and business development since the cleanup was completed and is a popular recreational destination.

Updated May 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Former Fruit-Growers chemical Company site at Mapua (documents). Retrieved from Tasman District Council 19 August 2010:
  2. Kidson, S. (2007, May 12) Something in the air. Nelson Mail, Section: General, p. 15
  3. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (2008) Investigation into the remediation of the contaminated site at Mapua, p.6.
  4. Kidson 
  5. Kidson
  6. Kidson
  7. Kidson, S. (2012, May 19) Cleanup safety flawed, Nelson Mail on Stuff:
  8. Ministry for the Environment (2011) Cleaning up Mapua. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment. Retrieved May 2020:
  9. Ministry for the Environment. Mapua contaminated site cleanup. Retrieved May 2020:

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  • In the mid 1950s up to 1960s I was exposed to the chemicals made in this plant. Got covered in the spray drift ate the blackberries after they had been sprayed stirred the mixture with hands being immersed to the elbows. Had good friends in Mapua who died of cancer who relied on groundwater. Watched the men involved in the spraying of this get I'll from mysterious diseases only to die of cancer. Followed the cleanup finding out that this was contaminating more. John Pooley.

    Posted by John Pooley , 04/11/2015 8:54am (9 years ago)

  • I was just looking at your site as after my father passed away I got some of his belongings and amongst them was a small magnifying glass in a little leather case. On one side of the case (very faint now due to the age of it)you can just read the following 'With the Compliments of Fruitgrowers Chemical Co Ltd Port Mapua Nelson. On the other side it reads 'Micronizer Brand Sprays Distributed by N.Z. Fruitgrowers Federation Ltd.
    I don't know where or how he came by this little gem, but he had it for as long as I could remember as a kid. Just wanted to see what/where this place was. We live in Whangarei, Northland.

    Posted by Natalie Brookland, 02/03/2014 5:34pm (10 years ago)

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Further sources - Māpua apple-growers chemical plant



  • Kidson, S. (2007, May 12) Toxic clean-up rules breached. Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Kidson, S. (2007, May 12) Something in the air. Nelson Mail, p.15
  • Neal, T. (2003, May 31) Cleanup at Mapua due to start in the spring. Nelson Mail, p.3

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