Orica – Enough is Enough

Last Wednesday, there was yet another pollution incident from Orica, when ammonia gas was released to blanket nearby suburbs and two people were hospitalised.

Just like the company’s approach to their hexavalent chromium release in August this year, there was yet another tardy response from Orica to notify the residents of Newcastle.

Last Sunday, it was revealed that Orica had already leaked 69,000 kilograms of the chemical in uncontrolled releases over the past year.

Enough is Enough!

The former State Government gave Orica a huge break when they gave them a Licence to Pollute in the first place.

Officially Orica was allowed to pollute our waterways and our air.

This Licence to Pollute is given under the so-called Protection of the Environment legislation. But it’s not about protecting the environment; it’s about protecting the polluting industries.

Orica was allowed to pollute our air from 9 different locations on their Kooragang site.

They’re allowed to contaminate the air with nitrogen pollution and with particulate pollution, but they are not required to even measure for the harmful PM 2.5 particles that are known to cause respiratory disease and cancer.

If they don’t measure it, how can they manage it?

Orica was allowed to pollute the Hunter River from 4 different locations on their site.

They’re allowed to contaminate the Hunter River with up to 4.5 million litres per day and up to 225 grams of arsenic, 900 grams of hexavalent chromium, 22.5 kg of zinc, 9 tonnes of nitrogen, 45 kg of oil and grease and 225 kg of solids. In addition their pollution can be up to 43 degrees and be as caustic as kitchen ammonia (pH of 9.5).

And that’s just what the State Government allows them to pollute.

Enough is Enough!

Before their hexavalent chromium release in August, the Orica plant had breached their licence conditions more than 130 times. These breaches included unlawful releases of arsenic (2006, 2007, 2009), hexavalent chromium (2005), nitrogen oxides and ammonia.

Until August this year, the EPA gave Orica a huge break and did not issue a single prevention, clean up or penalty notice for the Orica facility.

Enough is Enough!

Within 4 kilometres of the Orica explosives plant are the homes of more 44,000 Newcastle residents.

And yet, the industry or the State Government have never commissioned a proper study to investigate the cumulative effects on the environment and local residents from all this pollution.

This clearly shows the failure of this licensing system. It shows the failure of the regulators and the failure of successive state governments.

The Protection of the Environment legislation needs to be about protection of the environment and the local residents and not about the protection of the polluting companies.

If you break the road rules you get an immediate fine and you lose points on your licence.

For most of us, if we lose 13 points in a three-year period then our driver’s licence is suspended.

That’s what should happen with these so-called pollution licences.

More than 130 breaches of Orica’s pollution licence in a 10 year period is totally unacceptable.

The people of Newcastle have been let down by the management of Orica.

The ammonia gas release last Wednesday and all the “uncontrolled” releases has reinforced the view that the Orica plant is old, inadequately managed and inappropriately located and should be shut down and relocated.

Orica should lose their Licence to Pollute.

Enough is Enough!

Orica has been given enough breaks.

Two years ago, Orica received approval from the former State Government under Part 3A to expand their operation from 430,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate per year to 750,000 tonnes per year.

Under the environmental planning legislation, Newcastle Council was entitled to receive almost $5 million from the company to put towards the provision of public amenities.

Not a single Newcastle Councillor supported my motion that this multi-billion dollar company should pay the full developer contribution.

Instead, the majority of Councillors gave Orica a huge break and allowed them to make a $272,000 contribution towards landscaping at Corroba Oval, Stockton.

Just this week, Orica announced a net profit after tax of $642 million.

Enough is Enough!

The State Government needs to give the residents of Newcastle a break.

The EPA needs to be independent and properly funded and manage a regionally-coordinated air monitoring network that includes the measurement of fine particulates (PM 2.5).

The State Government should permanently shut down the Orica plant, make them clean up the Kooragang land and relocate to a more appropriate site.

Michael Osbourne

Greens Councilor for Newcastle

michael-osborne.blogspot.com

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