A stock transport company and its driver have been fined more than $10,000 and ordered to pay more than $3500 in costs for pouring petrol and diesel onto a Te Kuiti service station forecourt.
The incident, in June 2000, led to the evacuation of one family and admission of a child to hospital.
The company, Tim Coombs Deer and Stock Ltd and driver Noel Stewart, appeared in the Environment Court this month before Judge McElrea in Auckland. The court heard that Mr Stewart stopped to refuel at Waitomo Petroleum Ltd’s truck stop in Te Kuiti about 7.30pm, but realised he had pumped petrol instead of diesel into his tank.
He emptied about 60 litres of petrol and diesel into three containers and then drained the rest of the fuel onto the forecourt. The fuel flowed into a stormwater drain and into Te Kuiti’s stormwater system, discharging into a short drain on the eastern side of the town centre and into the Mangaokewa River.
A local dairy owner called the Volunteer Fire Service and closed her store because of fumes, and police visited neighbouring houses to warn residents of the danger. One family evacuated and their 13-year-old child was admitted to hospital for 18 hours with shortness of breath, chest discomfort and two periods of altered consciousness.
Truck stop staff cleaned up with pads and brooms, and the next day when Environment Waikato investigated there was still a strong smell of petrol and visible fuel in the water.
Sentencing the defendants, Judge McElrea said the effects and potential effects of the discharge were serious. He took into account that the driver had paid costs for the Council investigation and other costs, and the company had not paid any costs.
The company was fined $3500 on each of the two charges and ordered to pay costs of $3098 to Environment Waikato along with solicitor’s costs. Mr Stewart was fined $1500 on each of the two charges and ordered to pay costs.
Environment Waikato Resource Use Group Manager Harry Wilson said that the case was unusual in that it involved a child being taken to hospital and a potentially life threatening hazard to a large number of people.
“If someone had unknowingly thrown a cigarette butt into a stormwater drain or the stream it is likely that the petrol vapour would have exploded. We urge anyone involved in removing fuel from a tank to ensure it is safely stored and never discharge it down a drain.”