Natural hazards and emergencies

Hazardous substances

Many kinds of hazardous substances are transported, stored and used in Auckland and many industrial areas are near residential and environmentally sensitive areas.  Hazardous substance spills or accidents can affect a large area through explosions, chemical reactions or toxic gas plumes.

Our pollution response team and hazardous substance officers are on call throughout Auckland seven days a week, 24 hours a day to help deal with spillages and illegal dumping of hazardous substances.

Identifying hazardous substances

A hazardous substance is anything that may be:

  • explosive
  • flammable
  • able to oxidise
  • corrosive
  • toxic or eco-toxic.

This could include:

  • fireworks
  • gases like LPG
  • fuels like diesel or petrol
  • acids and alkalis
  • industrial solvents
  • animal remedies
  • cleaning fluids
  • the ingredients in a cosmetic
  • chemicals used in manufacturing.

Hazardous substances can:

  • harm people’s health
  • harm animals, habitats or ecosystems
  • contaminate land and water resources.

Hazardous substances can react with each other to cause an even bigger problem that can affect a large area.

Major hazardous substance releases

Parnell Fumes Incident: 1973

Residents of the suburb of Parnell, woke on 27 February 1973 with stinging eyes and sore throats, and emergency services were alerted.

The source of the problem was a number of leaking steel drums containing Merphon organophosphate cotton defoliant, which had been dumped on a section in Parnell after being offloaded from a freighter bound from Mexico to Australia.

Over the next four days, 6000 people were evacuated from their homes, and 643 were treated in hospital, including 41 firefighters who either inhaled fumes or were burned by the caustic soda used to neutralise the defoliant.

The emergency forced a review of procedures for dealing with the growing problem of chemical fires and spills. The inquiry also underlined the need for coordination between emergency services.

ICI Warehouse Fire: 1984

In December 1984, a serious chemical fire at the ICI warehouse in Mount Wellington resulted in one death and 26 people being injured. 

The fire led to an investigation of how we control and manage pollution and hazardous substances. It concluded that our rules and regulations had many gaps, overlaps and areas of poor performance, and said law changes were needed. 

As a result, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) came into force in 1996. The act requires the safe use and disposal of hazardous substances.

More information

Visit the Environmental Protection Authority website or the Ministry for the Environment website.


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