21st March 2011  EPA MEDIA RELEASE   see previous story

A chemicals company with a plant at Matraville has pleaded guilty to a breach of its environment protection licence which resulted in 685 kg of ethylene oxide being released into the air. This had a low potential to cause harm to residents of Matraville and the environment.

The company – Huntsman Corporation Australia Pty Ltd – was prosecuted by the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) and was penalised $28,000 and ordered to pay court costs of $40,000.

Director General of DECCW, Lisa Corbyn said that while the release of the gas had not caused any environmental damage and had not harmed human health – the company had breached its licence.

“It was fortunate in this case that the gas leak caused no actual harm, however there is no excuse for an event such as this,” Ms Corbyn said.

“This chemical may cause cancer and the company concerned has a responsibility to ensure that there is no breach of their licence conditions.”

The fine was imposed today by the Land and Environment Court. In his judgement Justice Craig said that the potential pollution arising from the offence was foreseeable but it was clear that the offence was not deliberately committed.

The $28,000 penalty is payable to Randwick City Council for use in its stormwater harvesting project at Chifley sports reserve. The company was also ordered to publish details of the offence in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Southern Courier

The company had identified possible causes for the event including inadequate alarms to problems in its production and errors by plant operators.

Huntsman has now implemented a number of measures to ensure this type of incident cannot happen again. These measures include upgrading the plant and implementing better systems for its operation.

Ms Corbyn said DECCW expects companies who are using chemicals with the potential to pollute the atmosphere to take every measure possible to prevent this happening.

“Clean air is fundamental to our health and the health of the environment,” she said.

“In this case, the factory is only a few hundred metres from houses and the community has a right to expect companies to operate in a way that is safe for their health and the environment.”

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