Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] Trouble in Peter's electorate - Contested bay cleanup may take 30 years

Ross Locket rosslocket at optusnet.com.au
Tue Nov 16 13:34:35 MST 2004

 This is one of the major problems in Peter's electorate at the moment.
Whilst it may be a state issue at present it is that Peter has not said
anything about it.  Maybe because it is the state Labor government who has
ignored the problem for many years.

The chemical company Orica may have to work non-stop for 30 years to clean
up the contaminated ground water flowing underground towards Botany Bay.
The company yesterday began distributing 25,000 copies of the environmental
impact statement for the treatment plant it wants to build to process the
toxic plumes.

But residents and environment groups still fear the clean-up will cause more
harm to local people and waterways.

Joan Staples, from the Save Botany Bay group, said she was doubtful the site
would ever be completely cleaned up because the damage had been left
unattended for so long.

"This is the worst toxic threat that Sydney has ever faced, and the
Government has let us down for years as a regulator," Ms Staples said. "ICI
[the former operator of the site] has left behind an incredible legacy and
nothing was done until the Government finally gave them a compulsory
clean-up notice."

Jason Collins, of Greenpeace, said Orica's clean-up process, which would
extract the pollutants from the water and burn them, would only contribute
to a new environmental problem.

"The plume desperately needs to be cleaned up, but we are very concerned
about the technology Orica has chosen because incineration is a dirty
technology," Mr Collins said. "Incineration just means Orica is moving the
problem from underground to the air."
Orica's environment manager, Bruce Gotting, said the company hoped the State
Government would approve its plans for the treatment plant.

But even if it did so, the plant would not be up and running for at least
another year.

"We've designed a plant that will last for at least 30 years," Mr Gotting
said. "But the modelling suggests concentration levels [of contaminants in
the water] will come down quite quickly." How long it took would depend on
the standard of treatment required by the Department of Environment and

Mr Gotting said it might be possible to switch off the proposed groundwater
treatment plant - which will be capable of treating 15 million litres a
day - if trials of bioremediation proved successful.

An earlier trial of bioremediation - encouraging naturally occurring
bacteria that feed on the chemical to gather at the most polluted area - was

Market research done for Orica found that fewer than half of people living
in neighbouring areas knew about the company's clean-up plan.

The same research found people were more concerned about what would happen
to Botany Bay if more of the untreated toxic plumes reached it than they
were about the effects of the proposed treatment plant on local air quality.

Health consultants engaged by Orica have told public meetings that emissions
from the treatment plant would not breach international health standards.

Orica is responsible for cleaning up the plumes, which cover about two
square kilometres, and contain the chemical 1,2-dichloroethane.

The chemical, which is no longer used, was employed in the manufacture of
PVC at the site.

The clean-up is likely to cost Orica about $120 million.

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