The Esperance Port Authority (EPA) has been fined $525 000 after pleading guilty to charges of lead pollution and emitting nickel odour.
The contamination, which occurred three years ago, saw Magistrate Greg Benn hand down Western Australia’s largest penalty for polluting.
Between December 2006 and March 2007, thousands of birds were reportedly falling from the sky, prompting a parliamentary inquiry.
The inquiry found lead dust had escaped from the port after Magellan Metal’s lead carbonate was loaded onto ships in windy conditions.
This also resulted in temporarily elevated levels of lead in the bloodstream of children in Esperance.
The Director General of the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), Keiran McNamara, said this prosecution was the result of a detailed investigation by the DEC, adding “that since this incident, the department’s capacity to regulate industry has been greatly improved by the allocation of significant additional resources in the monitoring and compliance areas.”
In 2008, a five year monitoring program was initiated to track the levels of lead still in the environment.
The EPA faced a maximum fine of $1.3 million; however it was fined less as it pleaded guilty at an early stage and offered an apology to the people of Esperance.
The Esperance Port Authority, now know as Esperance Ports Sea and Land (EPSL) restated its regret for the incident after sentencing.
EPSL’s acting chief executive Neil Pearson stated that the port did not have effective environmental procedures and controls at the time of the incident.
“This penalty is significant and the board will now need to consider the impact it will have on the port.” Pearson added.