Multinational chemical manufacturer Orica is in trouble yet again, this time in Queensland, over the alleged release of heightened levels of cyanide into Gladstone Harbour.
The state’s environment watchdog has charged the company with more than 250 breaches relating to discharges in January and February.
That follows the leaks at its ammonia plant near Newcastle last year.
Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell says if found guilty, the company faces a maximum penalty of $1 million per offence.
“This investigation started in March this year. We were made aware of allegations that on multiple occasions Orica had discharged effluent water containing cyanide in excess of its permitted levels,” he said.
“Orica’s been charged with 279 offences of what in the technical term is wilfully contravening a development condition of a development approval, in contravention of section 4351 of the Environmental Protection Act 1994.”
Mr Powell says Orica has a long history of non-compliance and that is why the department is seeking prosecution.
“The Premier’s given me a very clear mandate: where industry is doing the right thing I’m not to be a roadblock, but where they are doing the wrong thing I have the full force of the Environmental Protection Act at my disposal,” he said.
Gladstone Harbour has been the site of fish deaths and abnormalities in the past several months, but Mr Powell says the Government is still waiting on expert opinion to determine if there is a connection.
“At this stage, Gladstone Harbour has a lot going on at the moment. It will be a case of getting that expert opinion to give more confidence around that,” he said.
“What I can comment on is the fact that there was significant dilution of the cyanide upon the release.
“So there is an initial assessment that the environmental and human health risks are relatively low, if non-existent.”
Orica has issued a statement saying it intends to defend the complaints and believes there has been no environmental harm or risk to human health.