FAILURE: The chemical spill at QAL's South Trees Island facility left a massive hole in the ground in December 2017.
FAILURE: The chemical spill at QAL's South Trees Island facility left a massive hole in the ground in December 2017. Contributed

$130K WAKE UP CALL: QAL makes changes to refinery

A RAFT of changes are being implemented at Queensland Alumina Limited, after the company was convicted and fined $130,000 for releasing chemicals into the Gladstone Harbour.

Earlier this month QAL pleaded guilty in Gladstone Magistrates Court to four non-wilful contraventions of its Environmental Authority contrary to section 430 (3) of the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

The charges related to incidents on September 24, 2017 and December 5 2017.

In September, two of the three newly installed valves in the discharge pipe system were left open and about 65 cubic metres of 50 per cent sodium hydroxide poured into the harbour.

In December, 50 per cent sodium hydroxide spilled to land and groundwater outside the containment system, after a storage tank at South Trees ruptured.

Neither releases caused environmental harm, but the company was in breach of its EA.

On July 5, 2019, QAL was convicted and fined $130,000 for the two incidents.

Of this, $50,000 will be paid to Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership. The company was also ordered to pay $1500 in legal costs and $8104.31 in investigation costs.

Acting general manager Pine Pienaar said QAL was "disappointed that we let down the community and ourselves".

He said changes were made after the incidents, and further upgrades were under way as part of a five-year Environmental Improvement Program worth $300 million.

He said all findings from a review of the September incident involving QAL's unloading practices have been implemented.

Mr Pienaar said several tanks were decommissioned and permanently removed after the December spill.

"The whole area has also been re-lined with state-of-the-art lining technology, as well as more robust engineering practices applied," he said.

A Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said it takes compliance issues seriously.

"The department has set clear expectations about acceptable standards of environmental performance," they said.

It said it would continue to take strong enforcement action against compliance issues.

Mr Pienaar said the fine would be paid ahead of the due date of August 5.