'Quite serious': QAL could cop $400K fine for toxic spew

A GLADSTONE alumina plant accused of emitting toxic pollution over the city could be hit with a $400,000 penalty if proven guilty.

Queensland Alumina Limited was charged after the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection alleged it caused wilful serious environmental harm as a result of a release of caustic vapour into the atmosphere from its Gladstone plant on June 10 last year.

The case was mentioned before Gladstone Magistrates Court this afternoon. 

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And when magistrate Melanie Ho sought further details, a department legal representative said the maximum penalty was five years jail or a $500,000 fine.

The department's lawyer said because it was a corporation, it was not seeking a prison sentence but would in submission seek a fine at the higher end of $400,000.

"It is quite serious from the department's perspective. We are submitting the penalty to be at the top of the range," the department's lawyer said.

She said, if proven, orders could be made by the court for a portion of the fine to go back to the environment.

A lawyer for QAL said it had not entered a plea to the charge or agreed to any facts. And if it did plead there was a range of mitigating factors (to be considered by the court).

However, the QAL lawyer said both parties had been in discussion over the matter and it was likely the defendant (QAL) would take a certain legal course if both parties can agree to facts.

The department lawyer explained the facts of the matter as being complex, and could take between two and three hours of court time.

The matter was adjourned to be re-mentioned at a later date.

As previously reported by The Observer, QAL apologised to residents of South and West Gladstone for a potential environmental hazard.

Two days after the caustic leak QAL sent out apology letters to some residents. At the time, a QAL spokesman described it as "an extremely rare event" with no concerns over health impacts.



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