Newcastle explosives plant chemical leak

An explosives manufacturer has shut down its ammonia plant following a chemical leak on Monday night.

Orica Mining Services has stated its regret that it did not immediately notify authorities following a hexavalent chromium leak from the Koorangang Island plant at approximately 6:15 pm on Monday, which is believed to have exposed 20 workers to the chemicals, the ABC reports.

The New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage was informed of the leak on Tuesday, and subsequently shut the plant down.

Local resident were outraged that authorities did not inform them of the situation until yesterday, instead carrying out letterbox drops and door knocks, according to The Herald.
The letterbox drop included a government information sheet warning of potential health risks to the community and advising ways to minimise contamination.

Orica Mining Services general manager James Bonner said the company was initially focused on containing the spill, but added that authorities should have been contacted immediately.
We regret that," Bonner said.

"It’s clearly something, part of our incident review, an investigation will be trying to understand why authorities weren’t notified sooner.

"But the following morning they were notified, ensuring that they were briefed on what has occurred."

Orica’s website for the Kooragang Island plant also hosts information for the community in the result of an accident at the plant.

The Herald yesterday reported the Electrical Trades Union said a warning alarm did not go off after workers at the plant were exposed.

However, an Orica spokesperson refuted this, saying once the leak was detected work stopped immediately and emergency procedures were carried out.

According to the ABC, NSW chief medical officer Kerry Chant said the Health Department is working with the explosives manufacturer to understand the full extent of exposure.
Chant said the risk to health is minor.

“We’ve had no reports from the community of any adverse health effects and we’ve also looked at whether there’s been any attendances in (hospital) emergency departments," Chant said.

"The plume past, it was a short duration, so in turns of the acute effects we would have likely to have seen those occurring on the Monday."

Investigations are ongoing.

Orica received approvals to expand the plant in December 2009, which would see it grow the existing ammonia plant and install new nitric acid plants and ammonium nitrate plants, increasing production from around 430 000 tonnes to 750 000 tonnes per annum.