The NSW Government has closed Orica’s Kooragang Island ammonium nitrate plant following another leak from the facility. Only three months after Orica’s plant released hexavalent Chromium into the atmosphere and arsenic into the Hunter River, two workmen have been taken to the hospital after suffering breathing difficulties due to an ammonia leak which was traced back to the company.
It is reported that yesterday afternoon at approximately 3:30pm Orica’s Korragang Island facility released three plumes of ammonia over a 45 minute period. The ammonia vapour travelled across the Hunter River to the Australian Rail Track Corporation Facility where the two workmen suffered breathing difficulties and Emergency Services were called. Fire and Rescue NSW stated that there was no risk to the public or plant staff and that no
evacuations were necessary.
The ammonia leak occurred on the same day that the EPA announced that they have commenced proceedings against Orica Australia for the hexavalent chromium leak that affected residents of Stockton, Newcastle, on 8 August 2011. The EPA have asserted that “Orica breached its Environmental Protection License as it failed to operate its ammonia plant in a proper and efficient manner” and that the company “failed to notify the EPA as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the incident”. The company could face fines of more than $2 million over the August hexavalent chromium leak.
Orica has been ordered to appear before the NSW Land and Environment Court in early February 2012 and the Kooragang ammonium nitrate facility will remain closed until Orica can satisfy the Environmental Protection Agency that they can operate the plant safely. The EPA’s chief environmental regulator Greg Sullivan states that the performance of Orica at their Newcastle facility has been unacceptable and has to improve.