More Orica toxic chemical leaks in Newcastle

November 18, 2011

Two people were hospitalised with breathing difficulties in the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield East on November 9. NSW Fire and Rescue crews identified the cause as ammonia gas blown from the Orica chemical plant five kilometres away on Kooragang Island.

The Environment Protection Authority ordered the entire Orica site to be closed. A Fire and Rescue spokesperson said an estimated 900 kilograms of the gas had escaped over about an hour.

On November 10 NSW environment minister Robyn Parker said: “There is something systematically wrong at Orica and I am calling on the top person at Orica whoever that might be to step up and explain to the community.”

When asked, she could not name the “top person”.

Greens councilor Michael Osborne told a November 14 public forum, which was held as part of a NSW upper house inquiry into an August 8 hexavalent chromium leak from the Orica plant, that 44,000 people lived within a four-kilometre radius of the plant.

On November 15, Orica chief executive Graeme Liebelt told the upper house inquiry he didn’t think the leaking of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium onto suburban Stockton should be called a “serious incident”.

The November 16 Newcastle Herald said that Orica admitted the hexavalent chromium leak was probably twice as large as previously thought, and that “it then emerged, from official statistics, that the plant had released 69,000 kilograms of ammonia in uncontrolled leaks over the previous year”.

Orica’s annual report, released on November 14, showed a full-year after-tax profit of $642 million. The August leak had cost Orica $21 million to September 30, the annual report said.

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