QAL fined $125k after caustic slurry damaged properties
A MAJOR player in Gladstone industry has taken a hit to the Christmas coffers, after being handed a $125,000 fine in Gladstone Magistrates Court on Thursday.
Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) was fined the hefty sum and had a conviction recorded against it, after the company had pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawfully causing serious environmental harm, in relation to a caustic steam leak in November 2012.
General manager of operations for QAL Mike Dunstan appeared with other representatives in the court on Thursday to hear the penalty imposed for the offence, which took place on the evening of November 27 last year, when alkaline slurry entered a steam pipe, releasing a sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) aerosol into the air for about an hour.
The court heard the failure of two gaskets may have contributed to the release of steam and slurry into the atmosphere, which was then carried over the city of Gladstone by the prevailing winds.
Evidence of the slurry spray travelling up to 3.5km was found, although no health complications were reported as a result of the incident.
However, damage had been done to property and vehicles in the vicinity of the contaminant release.
The company faced a hefty compensation bill, having already paid out more than $106,000 in claims, with more still to be processed.
QAL's Mike Dunstan was apologetic in his statement outside the Magistrates Court.
"We regret the damage and the inconvenience caused to our neighbours and we accept the court's decision," he said.
"It's where we come from so all of our objectives are not to cause any harm to Gladstone."
Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell was blunt in his summary of the incident.
"QAL has pleaded guilty to one of the most serious offences under the Environmental Protection Act," Mr Powell said.
"It is particularly concerning and disappointing that this is the third time QAL had been fined for a similar offence."
Despite the prosecution seeking $150,000-$170,000 in fines, Magistrate Russell Warfield imposed a fine of $125,000 on QAL, as well as opting to record a conviction against the company.
Mr Warfield also ordered half of the fine be paid to Conservation Volunteers Australia and Gladstone District Wildlife Carers Association, each receiving $31,250 respectively.
QAL were also ordered to pay $7737 in investigative costs and $1500 in legal costs as part of the penalty.