Elevated Arsenic Levels in Frankton

Ask a Question |  Health | Property Information | BackgroundInformation for familiesInformation for gardenersInformation for property owners | Arsenic factsheet 

Elevated levels of arsenic have been found in road reserves in an established residential subdivision in Frankton.

Levels are below the national environmental standard for recreational activities and parks (80mg of arsenic per kg of soil) but some are above the standard for residential land (20mg/kg).

Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) has been working with the Medical Officer of Health and the developer of the subdivision, Remarkables Park Ltd (RPL), to establish the extent of the issue and to provide advice and reassurance to the community and property owners.

Residents and property owners have been advised by letter today (Wednesday 10 August) and are invited to a community information session at the St Margaret’s Church Hall, Ross St, Frankton at 6.30pm tomorrow (Thursday 11 August).

The information came to light after RPL carried out testing as part of routine preparations for the next stage of its development. RPL also sampled a small number of sites in the adjacent developed residential area.

The results were shared with QLDC, which informed Public Health South (PHS) and the Otago Regional Council (ORC). QLDC then commissioned a further set of samples to be taken on road reserves in the vicinity. These also showed arsenic levels that were lower than the level permitted for recreational activities (80mg/kg, which is the closest category of the standards relating to roadside reserves) but often higher than the permitted maximum of 20mg/kg on land used for residential purposes.

Contractors engaged by Remarkables Park Ltd brought in soil from elsewhere in the 1990s when the subdivision was being developed. This was used to establish the roads and berms; it was not used within the sections that were subsequently built on. The source of the imported material is not known.

 

Health

The Medical Officer of Health, Dr Derek Bell said the level of arsenic on a property would need to be established to understand the degree of personal exposure and any personal health effects. Exposure would be dependent on the amount of soil ingested through gardening activities and from eating home-grown produce and the duration of that exposure. Eating soil was most commonly associated with small children. The health of people with no exposure or limited exposure is unlikely to be affected.

Dr Bell said the environmental standards were very precautionary and assume that a significant proportion of a person’s diet came from home-grown produce over a lifetime. “Generally, at the levels of arsenic observed so far, health effects would not be expected,” he said. Anyone with health concerns is advised to consult their general practitioner.

Click here for information on arsenic and health from the Ministry of Health.

See below for information relating to young children

 

Property Information

The law requires QLDC to record the information about arsenic levels above the standard for residential land. This means that properties close to the road reserves where levels of arsenic above 20mg/kg have been found, will have that information placed on their Land Information Memorandum (LIM).

Landowners can choose to have their own properties sampled. If the results show arsenic levels that are lower than 20mg/kg of soil and QLDC is advised, the Council will be able to record on the LIM that the levels are below 20mg/kg for the property and include the evidence for that.

See below for further information for property owners.

Click here for a map of areas where sampling has been undertaken and the levels found.

 

Background

When the subdivision was developed in the early 1990s, RPL complied fully with all regulations and there were no requirements to test the soils. The National Environmental Standard soil guidelines were introduced in 2012.

Arsenic is a heavy metal that occurs naturally in the earth’s surface. It is associated with gold and schist rock, which is common in the Wakatipu area. Natural arsenic levels in soil can range from 1-40mg/kg of soil. Levels of under 20mg/kg are most common.

Humans are generally accustomed to exposure to small amounts of naturally occurring arsenic in the environment and that type of exposure is not thought to be harmful.

Worldwide, health issues related to arsenic are most common where it has been found in water supplies. Queenstown’s water supply, which supplies the Frankton area, has been tested and has barely detectible levels of arsenic. The Medical Officer of Health is confident that there is no risk relating to arsenic associated with the water supply in Frankton.

 

Information for families and caregivers with young children:

  • Don’t let young children play on soil where arsenic levels are known to be elevated The soil and dust can stick to their hands and toys, and be swallowed when they put objects in their mouths
  • Prevent young children from eating soil
  • Replace local soil in your sandpit with clean sand or soil sourced commercially or from elsewhere
  • Wash outdoor toys frequently
  • Encourage children to wash their hands frequently
  • Take off your outdoor shoes before coming inside
  • If a children’s play area shows elevated levels of arsenic, replace the top layer of soil with fresh soil, grass or other material to reduce dust and stop direct access by young children
  • If you decide to replace your topsoil, contact QLDC for advice about how to do this and where to dispose of the material. Phone 4410499

 

Information for gardeners:

  • The booklet “Arsenic and Health” on the Ministry of Health website has practical advice for home gardeners in areas with elevated arsenic levels
  • Thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables that have been in contact with soil and peel root vegetables
  • Grow vegetables in raised beds using topsoil sourced elsewhere
  • If you decide to replace your topsoil, contact QLDC for advice about how to do this and where to dispose of the material. Phone 4410499

 

Information for property owners:

  • The law requires QLDC to record information about any known contamination and to note this on Land Information Memoranda (LIMs) relating to property on or near where elevated levels have been found
  • QLDC has not taken any samples from private property to test for arsenic. However, any LIM requested in the area will now need to record the information held about the levels of arsenic in the adjacent road reserve areas.
  • Owners and residents may choose to have samples taken from their property and analysed at their own expense. A typical test costs $40-50 plus costs of collecting the sample. QLDC can provide a list of private laboratories which will provide this service.
  • If owners choose to have samples from your property tested, they can choose whether to share the results with QLDC. If the results show arsenic levels that are lower than the residential standard of 20mg/kg of soil and you advise QLDC, we are able to record that the levels are below 20mg/kg for the property and include the evidence for that.


Arsenic Factsheet
(PDF 156KB)

Who to contact if you have concerns: 

Please contact Public Health South and to speak to a Health Protection Officer:  03 4509154