Orica's shame: 148 safety breaches in 11 years

By Bevan Shields
Updated November 5 2012 - 3:56pm, first published December 17 2011 - 11:20pm
The pipe at the centre of Friday's leak. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

An acid spill at Orica's Port Kembla chemical plant was the latest in a decade-long series of breaches, it has been revealed.Nearly 4000 litres of sulphuric acid were found leaking from the Foreshore Rd Plant on Friday, triggering an angry response from the NSW Government and fresh public scrutiny of the beleaguered chemical maker.The incident was the sixth at Orica since its Kooragang Island plant showered carcinogenic chemicals over the Newcastle suburb of Stockton in August.However, a wider analysis of pollution records shows Friday's incident was the 148th licence breach at the Port Kembla site since 2000.NSW Office of Environment and Heritage data reveals the plant has regularly exceeded acceptable sulphur dioxide limits due to faulty equipment, often failed to take pollution samples and was the scene of an earlier sulphuric acid leak, in 2003.The majority of breaches were relatively minor, some incidents forced the facility to temporarily close and the plant has breached its licence every year since 2000, except last year.On Friday, 3000 to 4000 litres of highly corrosive sulphuric acid poured from a faulty pipe - just metres from the ocean - which transfers material between the factory and ships docked at Port Kembla Harbour's No 4 Jetty.The acid drained into a culvert, then into a purpose-built bund where it was contained.Orica reported the leak to the Environment Protection Authority's (EPA) Wollongong office at 6.40pm. EPA officers arrived 20 minutes later.They took water samples, but found no evidence of leakage into the harbour.An Orica spokeswoman said there was no damage to the environment, or risk to the community or employees.The incident is another headache for embattled NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker, who has come under fire since the first Orica leak in August."There are clearly systemic issues Orica needs to address across all parts of its operations, including at Port Kembla, to ensure the safety of their facilities, their workers, the community and the environment," Ms Parker said yesterday.The EPA has requested a full report from Orica within seven days and is conducting its own investigation."This pipeline will not be used until we have clearly understood how the incident occurred, and until the pipe's integrity is assured," an EPA spokeswoman said.Opposition spokesman for the environment Luke Foley yesterday questioned how much attention the leak would have attracted if it occurred before the first Stockton chemical release."I think there's no doubt they have to lift their game, but I also think they're ... under scrutiny [like] no other company in the state," Mr Foley said.NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell yesterday warned Orica would lose its licence if it fails to comply with environmental laws.Orica was unable to provide comments about the pollution breaches yesterday.

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