ORICA Australia has been fined $432,000 after pleading guilty to a string of environmental offences in the Gladstone Magistrates Court on Thursday.
The chemical manufacturer, which has its largest Australian facility at Yarwun, was fined and convicted $32,000 for one environmental breach and $400,000 between three separate breaches which occurred between February 2010 and February 2012.
In a Queensland first, magistrate Russell Warfield ruled that a portion of the fine could be allocated to a number of conservation groups via the public benefit order section of the Environmental Protection Act.
The Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell said at least $100,000 of the $250,000 public benefit order would be allocated to turtle research at Port Curtis, $90,000 for Conservation Volunteers Australia's Gladstone program and $60,000 for the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership.
In response to the incidents, Orica yesterday announced a $30 million upgrade to its Gladstone plant to improve its stormwater facility.
Orica pleaded guilty to four counts of contravening a condition of a development approval under the Environmental Protection Act
Mr Warfield said there was no evidence of environmental damage in Gladstone Harbour as a result of the breach and did not record a conviction.
"There is no evidence of environmental harm to the wildlife or waterways," Magistrate Warfield said.
Mr Warfield said Orica co-operated with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.
The judgement comes after Orica was found to have discharged unsafe levels of cyanide into waste water.
Orica is licensed to discharge wastewater containing 1 milligram per litre of total cyanide, but it was found the company had discharged 2 milligrams per litre.
Orica alerted DERM about the exceedence on February 29, 2012.
Orica was also ordered to pay $53,101.09 in legal and investigation costs.
Both Prosecting Barrister Tim Ryan and Defence Barrister Ralph Delvin refused to comment on the case outside the Gladstone Magistrates Court yesterday.
How the case unfolded:
- June 7, 2010-Feb 29, 2012: Orica fails to notify DERM about unauthorised released of cyanide on 50 occasions.
- 2010: Inspectors find unauthorised release of cyanide from Orica through stormwater during a period of heavy rain.
- March-May 2011: Orica is found to have released cyanide-contaminated effluent on 217 occasions.
- Jan-Feb 2012: Excessive amounts of cyanide are discharged into a water waste facility.
- Feb 29, 2012: Orica alerts DERM of the cyanide breach.
- June 2012: Orica issues a statement claiming there had been no threat human health or the environment as a result of the alleged incident.
- Nov 2012: Orica pleads guilty and is charged for four environmental offences.