Residents angry at Coode Island review

November 6, 1991

By David Mizon

MELBOURNE — Residents and community and environmental groups are demanding that clean-up and relocation costs from the Coode Island fire in August should be borne by the companies and not by the public.

At an October 27 public session of the Coode Island Review Panel (set up hastily by the Kirner government after the chemical fires), they argued that the notion of industry self-regulation, now fashionable among government bureaucrats, was ridiculous. Chemical companies needed to be subjected to stringent government regulation, backed by heavy fines, and they should be forced to drop the veil of secrecy that surrounds the industry's operations.

A full manifest of the chemicals stored at every site should be made public. It was noted that even after the fire, some companies had yet to reveal their chemicals stored on Coode.

Residents were particularly angry that no attempt had been made to set up a long-term health study on workers employed at Coode and residents in the surrounding area.

The Hazardous Materials Action Group (HAZMAG) demanded that:

  • the Department of Health establish a permanent task force to investigate health implications of long-term exposure to toxic and hazardous chemicals in Melbourne's western suburbs;

  • there be no further expansion of storage sites at Coode Island;

  • the chemical industry adopt a "just in time" approach to minimise the amount of chemicals stored.

  • port emergency services be maintained and upgraded;

  • where possible, chemicals be immediately relocated away from Coode Island, which is too close to the metropolitan area and residential suburbs. Relocation should not be to an area of ecological significance.

In the longer term, HAZMAG urges that a new central storage installation be built at a site which allows a 10-20 kilometre buffer zone, and is owned by the chemical companies. Movement to and from the installation should be by rail tanker or by pipeline.

Relocation should be accompanied by a shift to "clean production" in the chemical industry and the greater use of recycling.

The Kirner government, the Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) and their supporters in the community groups are arguing that the chemicals should be moved from Coode and dispersed around Melbourne. But HAZMAG and other groups argue that this would increase the risk of accident while chemicals are being transported on roads and the danger to residents of long-term exposure to toxic chemicals. HAZMAG also protested against the fact that community and local environmental groups were not represented on the review panel, not accorded observer status and not given resources to put together submissions or conduct independent research.

The panel is composed of John Landy (a member of the Land Conservation Council), Ron Cameron (general manager of Altona Petrochemical Company), Lyne Kosky (former mayor of Footscray), Dr Peter Brotherton (Australian Conservation Foundation), Brian Boyd (VTHC) and John Harper (senior lecturer in economics at Melbourne University).

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