Greens MP and environment spokesperson Cate Faehrmann is calling on the government to undertake an urgent assessment of all ammonium nitrate storage and production facilities across the state, following the devastating explosion of an ammonium nitrate plant in Texas.
Ms Faehrmann says the government should also order the relocation of Orica’s ammonium nitrate plant and Incitec Pivot’s storage facility on Kooragang Island due to its proximity to residents.
“The explosion in Texas was felt up to 100km away in Dallas, with many residents reporting they believed it was an earthquake the explosion was so enormous,” Ms Faehrmann said.
“The NSW Government needs to be able to guarantee the safety of communities living near large chemical facilities like the one in Texas, should a similar incident occurring here in NSW. If it can’t do that then the company will need to relocate or shut down.
“Residents living less than one kilometre from Orica’s Kooragang Island plant have been voicing their concerns for years over the proximity of the dangerous chemical plant to schools and homes.
“If a leak of hexavalent chromium can reach nearby suburbs such as Stockton imagine what an explosion would do.
“Just like Orica, the company responsible for the Texas explosion has been the subject of several disciplinary actions from the relevant environmental regulators.
“Yet once again it appears that the NSW Environment Protection Authority is taking Orica’s word for it that its operations do not present a safety risk to the people of Stockton.
“Governments need to stop taking the word of the companies whose dangerous activities they are supposed to be enforcing. Apparently the company responsible for the Texas explosion said in its risk management plan that its plant did not pose any threat of fire or explosions.
“We hear similar assurances from Orica, yet of course the risk of an explosion from an ammonium nitrate plant is never zero. And Orica’s plans to increase production from 430,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to 750,000 tonnes on Kooragang Island each year only increases the impact of an explosion should one occur.
“The nearest Stockton residents are about 800 metres away from Orica’s Kooragang Island plant. With the Texas blast levelling a five- to six-block radius around the plant with the force of a magnitude-2.1 earthquake, Stockton residents would be very much at risk if an explosion occurred at Orica’s plant nearby.
“The explosion in Texas has shown that unfortunately things do go wrong. The government needs to be honest about the risk posed to Newcastle residents and explore relocation options for the ammonium nitrate production and storage facilities on Kooragang Island.
“The Environment Minister Robyn Parker also needs to order an urgent assessment of all other facilities in NSW that store or produce ammonium nitrate,” said Ms Faehrmann.
In 2012, the EPA undertook an audit of 40 of NSW’s most dangerous licensed facilities after the Orica Kooragang Island incident, however this audit did not assess the risk of explosion or the impact on nearby residents should an explosion occur. The audit included facilities which stored ammonium nitrate, such as:
- Incitec Pivot Ltd, Kooragang Island
- Incitec Pivot Fertilisers, Moree
- Downer-EDI Mining Blasting Services, Singleton
- Orica, Kooragang Island