MISSING PLATES: Defence lawyer April Freeman  with Orica employees, including Sarah Jones who pleaded guilty on behalf of the company.
MISSING PLATES: Defence lawyer April Freeman with Orica employees, including Sarah Jones who pleaded guilty on behalf of the company. Matt Taylor GLA150219COURT

Orica fronts court for 330kg ammonia release

MISSING "slip plates" were the cause of the release of 330kg of ammonia into Gladstone's atmosphere in 2016, a court has heard.

Orica Australia Pty Ltd fronted court yesterday for the incident that shutdown its Fishermen's Landing storage site on September 23, 2016, as emergency services tried to contain the unintentional release of the toxic gas.

A representative for the company pleaded guilty in Gladstone Magistrates Court to one count of contravening a condition of the environmental authority under the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

The incident occurred during the unloading of ammonia from one of the company's ships at the Orica storage site.

At about 7am 330kg of ammonia was unintentionally released into the atmosphere through the site flare.

The court was told that days prior to the incident routine maintenance had been carried out at the site.

The court was told that slip plates - used in the process of ammonia transportation to an on-site storage tank - were removed during maintenance.

The plates were not reinstalled after the maintenance was finished.

Emergency service workers were called and sprayed the flare with a water cannon, bringing the gas to ground level where it could be dealt with.

The ammonia-contaminated water pooled on the ground and flowed into the site's stormwater drain.

 

Representatives from the Department of Environment and Science leave Gladstone Magistrates Court after the prosecution of Orica Australia Pty Ltd.
Representatives from the Department of Environment and Science leave Gladstone Magistrates Court after the prosecution of Orica Australia Pty Ltd. Matt Taylor GLA150219COURT

However, as a result of "silt build-up", a valve in the drain did not seal, allowing the contaminated water to flow into a roadside drain.

The court was told the water flowed 490m towards the Gladstone harbour before Orica staff stopped the flow using plywood timber.

The contaminated water flow was stopped 850m from the harbour.

The court was told the company spent more than $50,000 to clean-up and transport 118 truckloads of contaminated water from the drain between September 24 and October 12.

The company spent a further $735,000 on installing improvements across the site to prevent further incidents.

Investigations into the incident revealed there was no environmental harm caused.

Department of Environment and Science prosecutor Mr Nicholson said there was potential for harm to the environment but this was prevented by the quick actions of Orica staff.

The court was told that because the installation of slip plates occurred in 2008 they were not included in the original site plans.

No further documentation was created to note the modification.

The court was told the lack of documentation detailing the installation of slip plates was the reason they were not reinstalled after maintenance.

Lawyer April Freeman said the company employed 200 workers locally and contributed financially to the community.

Magistrate Dennis Kinsella said the incident was "unintentional" and Orica staff worked "swiftly" to help emergency services contain the gas and stop the contaminated water from flowing to the harbour.

Orica was fined $50,000 for the breach and ordered to pay $2500 in professional costs to the Crown and $1500 to the DES.

A conviction was not recorded.



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