Carcinogen leak not serious: Orica boss

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Orica chief executive Graeme Liebelt says a spray of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium onto Stockton in August should not be considered “serious”.

In the company’s submission to the upper house inquiry into Orica, Liebelt said he agreed with a WorkCover analysis that downplayed the initial leak’s danger.

But yesterday details emerged at the inquiry suggesting the level of chemicals sprayed over Stockton was higher than first thought.

According to the Newcastle Herald initial reports suggested the figure levelled at around 10 kilograms, but that has since been revised to 10-20 kilograms.

Senior staff at the plant admitted yesterday they had “lost control” of the plant on the night of the initial leak on August 8.

They said deviations from normal operating procedures had combined with other factors to “overwhelm” the Kooragang plant’s containment system.

Kooragang Island site manager Stuart Newman told the inquiry he had been “overwhelmed” by the amount of toxic chemicals that had leaked.

Newman said he initially believed the spray had been contained to the Orica site until a Stockton resident phoned the next morning to report yellow spots on their car.

But in better news for the company, Orica yesterday advised that a separate leak last week had been smaller than first thought.

The company said it was initially thought up to 900 kilograms of ammonia vapour had escaped, but this figure has been slashed to around 170 kg.

Nevertheless local residents have reiterated calls for the company to close the plant, and Liebelt this week did not rule out the possibility of the company shedding workers.

Leibelt is due to give evidence at the inquiry tomorrow.

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