A highly dangerous quantity of a toxic chemical has leaked from the Huntsman plant in Botany.

Almost 700kg of ethylene oxide was emitted on October 28 as a result of a production malfunction at the chemical manufacturing plant.

The glycol ethers plant was shut down by the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and reopened on Friday after a thorough investigation. This follows a propylene oxide leak in another of the company’s plants in early October.

DECCW deputy director-general Joe Woodward said the two leaks in one month raised questions about their ongoing attention to pollution control.

He said Huntsman had notified the department of a minor incident on the day it occurred, but the extent of the emission was not known until late the following day when more information was supplied by the company.

“The release of this level of ethylene oxide into the atmosphere is concerning,” he said. “As soon as DECCW was made aware of the incident we acted to make sure the plant was not operating to stop any further emissions.”

UNSW professor of toxicology and occupational health Chris Winder said the leak was an extraordinarily large amount and that the chemical can cause cancer and damage to DNA.

“It is a highly reactive chemical that is used in sterilisation processes for things like medical supplies,” he said. “It penetrates plastic – so that gives you an idea of how reactive it is.”

Huntsman manufacturing manager Earl Morritt said although any leak was a bad leak, the chemical was in a very low concentration.

“There are no ill effects in the surrounding communities,” he said. “The quantity from a neighbourhood perspective (gives) no real cause for alarm.”

He said corrective measures were being put in place to prevent future problems including implementing an earlier warning system.

A long-term Huntsman employee, who did not want to be named, told the Courier the leak hadn’t been detected for two hours.

“By that stage we had leaked and contaminated 750kg of ethylene oxide in the environment,” he said.

He said the disaster could have been avoided if the low-flow alarm that malfunctioned five years ago had been fixed.

But Mr Morritt said the alarm had been made redundant in 2004 because it was not reliable and responded to only one of the plant’s 50 products.

3 Responses to “Toxic gas leak from Huntsman plant”
  1. admin says:

    As a former employee of ICI Australia who was involved with Hazard and Risk Assessment of the Ethylene Oxide plant at Botany I consider an Ethylene Oxide leak of this magnitude an extremely serious matter.

    Ethylene Oxide is Carcinigenic, Toxic and Explosive when mixed with air but most alarming of all in the absence of air can also be Detonated !

    A Detonation in the Ethylene Oxide Factory would set off a horrific chain of events in such a highly populated area.

    Historically American Ethylene Oxide facilities and Transport have had a poor safety record.

    Serious questions need to be asked as to current Safety Standards on the Botany site.

    John A. Hackett

    Senior Scientist

  2. admin says:

    MEDIA RELEASE DECCW

    Botany chemical plant shut down
    Media release: 30 October 2009

    A glycol ether chemical plant at Botany Industrial Park has ceased operations following the emission of the gas ethylene oxide into the atmosphere.

    Approximately 750kg of ethylene oxide was emitted as the result of Huntsman chemical manufacturing plant production malfunction on Wednesday.

    Deputy Director General of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW), Joe Woodward, said the Department was investigating the incident.

    “The release of this level of ethylene oxide into the atmosphere is concerning,” he said.

    “As soon as DECCW was made aware of the incident we acted to make sure the plant was not operating to stop any further emissions. We also notified and are consulting with NSW Health and Workcover.

    “Huntsman notified DECCW of a minor incident on Wednesday but the extent of the emission was not known until late yesterday afternoon when more information was supplied by the company.

    “The glycol ether plant will not continue operating until DECCW is satisfied adequate measures are in place to prevent another incident.

    “DECCW has been investigating an incident earlier this month from a different plant within the Huntsman complex which raises some questions about their ongoing attention to pollution control. DECCW will be working with the company to sort out these issues.

    “The plant uses a range of chemicals for the manufacture of surfactants for cleaning materials.

    “NSW has tough pollution laws and fines of over $1 million for the worst offences.”

    Professor Mark Ferson, Director of Public Health for South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Health Service (SESIH) advises that the Public Health Unit will continue to monitor the sitution, however said it is unlikely residents will have any health effects from the emissions.

    “From the information we have local residents have not presented to hospitals, GPs or pharmacies with signs or symtoms of exposure and community exposure is unlikely,” Professor Ferson said.

    SESIH Public Health Unit and DECCW will keep local residents updated with new information as it becomes available. However, residents who are concerned about possible symptoms should contact the SESIH Public Health Unit 02 9382 8333, or their local GP.

    Contact: Olivia Greentree

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