Aerial photo of Gladstone's Orica facility. Photo: Chrissy Harris
Aerial photo of Gladstone's Orica facility. Photo: Chrissy Harris Chrissy Harris

Orica charged over cyanide spills

AFTER allegations of repeated cyanide spills at Orica Australia's Yarwun plant the chemical manufacturer has been charged with 279 environmental offences.

In a statement, the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell confirmed his department had today commenced a prosecution against Orica.

Orica has been charged with 279 offences of wilfully contravening a development condition of a development approval, in contravention of section 435(1) of the Environmental Protection Act 1994. The alleged offending conduct includes:

• Releasing contaminants in excess of licence limits;

• Failing to notify the department upon becoming aware of contraventions; and

• Failing to test for contaminants prior to releasing effluent.

Mr Powell said his department became aware of the suspected breaches in March 2012 and immediately started an investigation.

"The department became aware of allegations that on multiple occasions Orica had discharged effluent water containing cyanide in excess of permitted levels," he said.

"I personally met with Orica's Managing Director and CEO on 26 April and outlined to them my views on the seriousness of their alleged offending.

"The department has been proactive in its dealings with Orica and in ensuring that Orica's site is compliant."

On May 3, the department obtained a court order from the Planning and Environment Court requiring Orica to undertake an independent audit of the plant and its procedures.

Today EHP formally commenced a prosecution in the Gladstone Magistrates Court.

"Both the department and myself have taken a particular interest in any behaviour that may affect the Gladstone Harbour environment or have a detrimental effect on the Great Barrier Reef," Mr Powell said.

It is alleged that Orica was aware of the licence conditions but elected to ignore some of the requirements for an extended period.

Mr Powell said Orica had a history of environmental non-compliance, having previously been the subject of multiple statutory enforcement tools.

"Unfortunately this is not new territory for Orica," he said.

"While I do not wish to prejudice the impending legal matters, it must be noted that this company has been prosecuted previously over its poor performance which dates back to 2007."

There is also another prosecution currently before the court for releasing contaminants to waters.

"This government will work with companies which do the right thing, but it will take action against companies that abuse the privilege of operating within our state.

"Orica have been warned for years and allegations that they dismissed these warnings and approval conditions are of great concern.

"Frankly, this behaviour will not be tolerated."

Orica produces ammonium nitrate and sodium cyanide for the mining industry.