Stockton Community Action Group Calls for Ammonium Nitrate to move or reduce

An Image of the devastation on Beirut after the recent explosion.

THE massive and devastating blast in Lebanon’s capital Beirut has left a path of death and destruction.

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While the circumstances of the storage of the 2,750 tonnes of explosive ammonium nitrate are not repeated here, storage of a far greater quantity of the chemical is stored locally.

Ammonium Nitrate events include a Texas fertiliser plant in 2013 which killed 15 people which was ruled deliberate, and another accidental explosion at a chemical plant in Toulouse, France, in 2001 that killed 31 people and injured 2,500.

Kooragang Island has long been home to a large stockpile of ammonium nitrate.

In Beirut the explosion has already killed more than 130 people and injured more than 5,000.

The city resembles a war zone of epic proportions.

While many mourn, locally others are looking at the possible impact of the stores on Kooragang Island with a renewed appreciation of the possible outcome of a disaster.

The Orica Company website says, “Within Australia the production, storage and transport of ammonium nitrate by Orica and others is heavily regulated and monitored.

“In addition to these regulations and our own rigorous approach to safety and risk management, our operations at Kooragang Island are regularly inspected by authorities.

“In the Kooragang Island site’s 51-year history there has not been a single incident involving the storage of AN.”

News Of The Area understands the Newcastle Stockpile is between 6,000 to 11,000 tonnes compared to the 2,750 tonnes which has devastated Beirut.

The Stockton Community Action Group (SCAG), has been calling for the Orica plant to be relocated, or its stockpiles of ammonium nitrate to be significantly reduced for a long time.

Keith Craig is a Chemical Engineer and holds a Masters of Environmental Science, he sits on the SCAG committee and the Newcastle EPA consultative committee for the environment as well as a community reference group for Orica.

Keith Craig of SCAG told News Of The Area, “For 15 years the group has been working to get the stockpile moved.”

SCAG is keen to see a reduction in volumes and movement of the chemicals.

A French colleague of Craig’s, studying at the university in Toulouse, is scarred from the ammonium nitrate blast there.

His attitude is that if it can happen in France it could happen here, “You can’t discount the risk totally – it (Kooragang) is not the right place for this type of factory.”

“In a 2011 a leak Orica released carcinogenic chemicals that went over neighbouring suburbs,” Craig said.

A spokesperson for SafeWork NSW said, “Orica Kooragang Island has a licensed capacity for 11,000 tonnes for ammonium nitrate.”

“Premises that store significant quantities of ammonium nitrate are classified as Major Hazard Facilities and are subject to regulation and oversight by way of a whole of government approach by SafeWork NSW, the Environment Protection Authority, NSW Police and the Department of Planning.”

“SafeWork NSW also conducts periodic spot checks via its post licence verification programs, throughout the licence term.

“Environment protection licences for these facilities also include strict conditions to manage risks to the environment and human health, including regular inspections of all licensed premises to ensure compliance with licence conditions.”



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