ORICA is being investigated by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) for alleged unauthorised waste water releases in January and February from their Yarwun chemical plant.
The Department issued an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) last night to Orica Australia Pty Ltd to cease wastewater releases to a Trade Waste Facility, unless authorised by DERM. Accordingly, the Department has moved to immediately commence a regulatory investigation and is executing warrants to obtain all relevant evidence.
Department of Environment and Resource Management Associate Director General Terry Wall said water samples were collected last night from Orica's facility.
He said Orica, which commenced operations in Gladstone in 1990, operate under a Development Approval, issued by the department, which regulates the release of waste water to Gladstone Harbour through the Yarwun Trade Waste Facility.
"Orica is licensed to discharge wastewater containing 1 milligram per litre of total cyanide via a trade waste facility," Mr Wall said.
"The company has advised that a number of discharges of waste water have occurred since January with concentrations of around 2 milligrams per litre of Total Cyanide. Orica advises it is not currently exceeding the licence limit and the last recorded exceedance was on 22 February 2012."
He said waste water was released via a diffuser which significantly dilutes the discharges before it reaches the harbour.
"Cyanide generally has an immediate effect on fish and high levels result in large fish kills. There has been no reported fish kill in the vicinity of the discharge point to date. This tends to indicate that discharge has been diluted sufficiently to be within environmental limits," Mr Wall said.
Limits for human exposure are higher than environmental limits and are therefore Mr Wall sais it was not likely to have been breached.
"Investigations are at an early stage and definitive conclusions will not be able to be drawn until laboratory results are returned.
"The department is concerned that Orica may have failed to notify the Department as is required under their development approval which, if confirmed, would represent a serious offence," Mr Wall said.
DERM is set to undertake further water quality, sediment and fish sampling from Gladstone Harbour in the vicinity of the discharge point today to collect evidence of any harm to the environment.
"The company will be prevented from further discharging off-site until such time as DERM is satisfied appropriate controls are in place to ensure the company can meet its obligations."
The maximum penalty for breaching a development approval under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 is $166,500 for an individual and $832,500 for a company.
Orica is one of the largest manufacturers of sodium cyanide in the world producing around 95,000 tonnes per annum. Sodium cyanide is principally used as a leaching agent in the gold mining industry.
Members of the community can report concerns to the departments Pollution Hotline 1300 130 372.
YESTERDAY'S announcement that Orica has released up to double the acceptable level of cyanide in its waste water is just another controversy in its chequered track record.
The company has been involved in a number of environmental breaches in recent years, both in Gladstone and in other locations such as Newcastle.
The Department of Environment and Resource Management is prosecuting a case against Orica for a breach in 2008. That case is before a Magistrates Court.
DERM associate director general Terry Walls said the company had also been involved in various breaches in
2007, 2010 and 2011.
Mr Walls, who refused to comment on whether Orica had a poor culture of environmental standards, said: "I can only comment that... certainly, there have been a number of breaches over recent years.
"All we can do is to work as appropriately as we can with companies and ensure that when we investigate and reach a conclusion we deal with them."