WA toxic scandals continue

Issue 

BY BARRY HEALY

PERTH — Dr Jeffrey Claflin, director of Waste Control, the toxic waste treatment plant that exploded in February last year in what has been called Australia's worst toxic fire, has been charged with breaches of the company's environmental licence. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of $62,500.

The charges relate to technical issues such as failure to provide an inventory of materials in storage, failing to repackage leaking containers and not dealing with liquid wastes on impervious hardstand areas built to contain leaks within the premises.

Contaminated Sites Alliance spokesperson Lee Bell pointed out to Green Left Weekly that so far there are no charges relating to pollution on the site. "Ground testing showed pollution had been going on for years", he said.

The Western Australia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is itself under heavy criticism for its failure to police Waste Control, laid the four charges on March 5.

The same day the health department released figures showing that the male death rate from cancer in Rockingham-Kwinana was 25% above the state average in 2000. Twelve per cent more females from the area were diagnosed with cancer than in the rest of WA.

The "Kwinana strip", south of Perth is WA's major heavy industrial zone and home to Tox Free Solutions, the toxic waste repository that opened in December last year and now takes the largest part of the state's industrial waste.

Kwinana Progress Association activist Steve Hesse told GLW that on average in the area one person is diagnosed with cancer every day and three people die of cancer every week.

Hesse and Bell recently visited Tox Free Solutions as part of a community inspection. Both described it as "a shambles".

"In half an hour we saw 20 things that concerned us", Hesse said. "We took it up immediately with the DEP."

DEP officials waited a week before following up the issues with an inspection.

Tox Free Solutions uses a thermal desorption treatment technique. Substances such as PCB-contaminated soil and perchlorethylene (PCE) are heated until the dangerous chemicals release into gaseous form. The gases are chilled, concentrated and trucked to Brisbane for destruction.

Hesse said the DEP had authorised Tox Free's operation without a commissioning study to see if the plant emits safe levels of chemicals.

From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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