Study of separate mortuary waste disposal defeated

Mayor's deciding vote vetoes further investigation of treating tapu water separately.

Mayor's deciding vote vetoes further investigation of treating tapu water separately.

File picture by Liam Clayton

A MOVE to continue investigating the removal of mortuary and funeral home waste from the city’s wastewater stream for discharge to land was defeated after a heated debate at Gisborne District Council’s environmental planning and regulations committee meeting.

After a division was called by councillor Craig Bauld, the vote of Mayor Meng Foon made the difference in the defeat of a motion to adopt a staff report and proceed with a feasibility study on the separation and land treatment of mortuary and funeral home fluid wastes from the city’s wastewater stream.

Mr Foon, who was there in his ex-officio status on all committees, cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 outcome after the eight committee members present were evenly split 4-4.

Strategic planning manager David Wilson said there had been concerns for some time about mortuary water discharged into the bay through the wastewater system.

It was a possible stumbling block, should the council decide to discharge the wastewater on to wetlands.

The wastewater technical advisory group had started work on how to exclude mortuary waste water from the wastewater stream. The paper before the committee was intended to raise awareness that this work had been started.

The staff paper said it was anticipated that waste products would be discharged to on-site holding tanks prior to discharge into a septic tank system and dispersal leach field at Taruheru Cemetery.

Josh Wharehinga said he was happy to move the adoption of the paper because it was about feasibility and getting more information.

Craig Bauld said the council was talking about cultural sensitivity gone mad, about money spent for no good reason and sensitivities that if they ever existed, did so hundreds of years ago and certainly did not exist with 'normal' families today.

“I don’t want us to proceed with it. I think it should stop,” he said.

Bill Burdett, chairman of the wastewater management committee, said with this was going to be a major issue for the council and the district. Iwi were united on this and the council should proceed with the feasibility study.

Rehette Stoltz said she was quite happy for the council to proceed but wanted it to be sure it got all the appropriate information, such as from funeral directors.

Committee chairwoman Pat Seymour said this was much wider than just the mortuary and funeral directors — there were implications for the whole community. The recommendations should include clearly that the feasibility study should proced.

Mr Wharehinga said he was happy to add that to the motion he had moved. Seconder Meredith Akuhata-Brown agreed.

Mr Bauld asked for a division.

Alan Davidson said even though he did not go all the way with Mr Bauld, he had reservations as to where this would stop.

Mr Wilson said this had arisen out of concerns from tangata whenua about body fluids from dead people going into the bay.

Medical officer of health Bruce Duncan said a lot of the issues had already been addressed, including hospital waste, several years ago.

There was a clear direction from tangata whenua that waters used for washing bodies were tapu and had to be respected and dealt with appropriately. If they were included in the waste stream it would invalidate any processes the council would use in wetlands. There were still a number of discussions to be had and questions to be answered.

Mr Foon said the BTF plant was supposed to transform wastewater from human to neutral. Was the plant working to ensure the cultural needs of the community were met?

Mr Burdett said in terms of tikanga and cultural belief, this was what the council had to work through.

Votes to proceed with the study were recorded by Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Josh Wharehinga, Amber Dunn and Rehette Stoltz.

Those against were Pat Seymour, Alan Davidson, Andy Cranston, Craig Bauld and the Mayor.

Bill Burdett could not vote as he is not a committee member.

A MOVE to continue investigating the removal of mortuary and funeral home waste from the city’s wastewater stream for discharge to land was defeated after a heated debate at Gisborne District Council’s environmental planning and regulations committee meeting.

After a division was called by councillor Craig Bauld, the vote of Mayor Meng Foon made the difference in the defeat of a motion to adopt a staff report and proceed with a feasibility study on the separation and land treatment of mortuary and funeral home fluid wastes from the city’s wastewater stream.

Mr Foon, who was there in his ex-officio status on all committees, cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 outcome after the eight committee members present were evenly split 4-4.

Strategic planning manager David Wilson said there had been concerns for some time about mortuary water discharged into the bay through the wastewater system.

It was a possible stumbling block, should the council decide to discharge the wastewater on to wetlands.

The wastewater technical advisory group had started work on how to exclude mortuary waste water from the wastewater stream. The paper before the committee was intended to raise awareness that this work had been started.

The staff paper said it was anticipated that waste products would be discharged to on-site holding tanks prior to discharge into a septic tank system and dispersal leach field at Taruheru Cemetery.

Josh Wharehinga said he was happy to move the adoption of the paper because it was about feasibility and getting more information.

Craig Bauld said the council was talking about cultural sensitivity gone mad, about money spent for no good reason and sensitivities that if they ever existed, did so hundreds of years ago and certainly did not exist with 'normal' families today.

“I don’t want us to proceed with it. I think it should stop,” he said.

Bill Burdett, chairman of the wastewater management committee, said with this was going to be a major issue for the council and the district. Iwi were united on this and the council should proceed with the feasibility study.

Rehette Stoltz said she was quite happy for the council to proceed but wanted it to be sure it got all the appropriate information, such as from funeral directors.

Committee chairwoman Pat Seymour said this was much wider than just the mortuary and funeral directors — there were implications for the whole community. The recommendations should include clearly that the feasibility study should proced.

Mr Wharehinga said he was happy to add that to the motion he had moved. Seconder Meredith Akuhata-Brown agreed.

Mr Bauld asked for a division.

Alan Davidson said even though he did not go all the way with Mr Bauld, he had reservations as to where this would stop.

Mr Wilson said this had arisen out of concerns from tangata whenua about body fluids from dead people going into the bay.

Medical officer of health Bruce Duncan said a lot of the issues had already been addressed, including hospital waste, several years ago.

There was a clear direction from tangata whenua that waters used for washing bodies were tapu and had to be respected and dealt with appropriately. If they were included in the waste stream it would invalidate any processes the council would use in wetlands. There were still a number of discussions to be had and questions to be answered.

Mr Foon said the BTF plant was supposed to transform wastewater from human to neutral. Was the plant working to ensure the cultural needs of the community were met?

Mr Burdett said in terms of tikanga and cultural belief, this was what the council had to work through.

Votes to proceed with the study were recorded by Meredith Akuhata-Brown, Josh Wharehinga, Amber Dunn and Rehette Stoltz.

Those against were Pat Seymour, Alan Davidson, Andy Cranston, Craig Bauld and the Mayor.

Bill Burdett could not vote as he is not a committee member.

Removal would add to funeral costs

THE removal of mortuary and funeral home waste from the city’s wastewater stream would increase funeral costs for Gisborne families, said funeral director David Parker.

He was speaking at the public forum section of the environmental planning and regulations committee meeting, which later discussed a staff recommendation to proceed with a feasibility report on removing this waste.

The embalming total for all deaths in Gisborne was 70 percent and 95 percent for Maori families, Mr Parker said.

His funeral home had seen a real culture change in Maori families leaving their loved ones with them overnight, as families travelled long distances and tangi were taking up to five days.

This district had the largest percentage of deceased people stored offsite because of palliative care and people going to marae.

The embalming process involved approximately 500 litres per case and because there was so much water, the concentration of chemicals in the body fluids was minimal.

There could be six embalming processes a day, involving 3000 litres of water, and long weekends would put extreme pressure on a holding facility.

For deaths in hospitals, the deceased was washed and cleaned in the ward and never went to the mortuary.

Private home deaths did not always involve a funeral director. There was a lot more to this proposal than just funeral drectors and hospitals. It would have to be consistent with all deaths.

He presented a letter from Anne McGuire on Maori tupapaku practices, highlighting acceptability of the use of waterways. He was aware of these cultural practices continuing today, including purging and cleaning of a body at Kaiti Beach.

Areas like Okitu, Kaiaua and Mahia were set aside for these practices.

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