Nov 29, 2011

HCB ­ The celebrity waste

There are few things which make me almost choke on my cornflakes or cup of coffee.  But I must confess an article, or more correctly two articles, in last week’s Southern Courier produced that urge. The urge was exacerbated by parliamentary testimony by the Orica chief executive in Newcastle. 

The first local story was from Orica’s Bill Crowe who unashamedly said that HCB, or hexachlorbenzene, had become a “celebrity waste” and although it had a “bad name” it wasn’t too bad.Mr Crowe was speaking at an HCB Community Participation and Review Committee meeting. 

Well to our residents, HCB is not a celebrity, it is a curse. 

Mr Crowe’s company, which also has a bad name, wants to relocate the celebrity waste but, again in his words, “There’s a dance to go through to get people comfortable with the idea.” He quipped, tellingly: “People won’t dance.” 

People round here won’t dance, Mr Crowe, because, simply, they don’t believe a word or a commitment Orica makes.  That’s the case for the present.  It has been the case in the past. And, it will be the case in the future. At the Newcastle parliamentary committee hearing, Orica boss Graeme Liebelt, said that the leaking of the carcinogenic chemical hexavalent chromium in suburban Newcastle should not be considered a “serious incident” 

He may not have not considered it serious but the local residents did, and our own residents would agree with the Newcastle residents and not Orica. 

The other very disturbing fact that emerge at the Newcastle hearing was that Orica senior staff admitted that they “lost control” of the ammonia plant. To have senior staff admit that they couldn’t control a chemical plant is clearly terrifying. I’d like to know what levels of control senior staff have over the many and varied operations andmanufacturing at the Orica Botany plant. 

To people around here, the great Orica legacy is multifaceted, and distinctly negative There’s the stockpile of HCB, what Orica considers celebrity waste and which we know as toxic waste The waste is at Botany as it has been for many years.  It has to go. 

Then another facet of the legacy – polluted groundwater. For years Orica and the Environmental Protection Agency said no problem.  We differed and undertook our own independent analysis.  The outcome was the truth – that the groundwater was polluted. The EPA was forced to act. 

Then there is the occasional venting of chemicals – another constant legacy. While not as bad as what’s been happening to Orica in Newcastle, it is still not good. The common denominators are Orica and the EPA. 

This leads me to the second article in the Southern Courier and my breathing problems. The head of the EPA, Greg Sullivan, says the EPA is working with industry to make them better neighbours to residential communities. Mr Sullivan was speaking at the same meeting as Mr Crowe.Fresh from the Orica debacle, or debacles, in Newcastle, Mr Sullivan said these events would “reinvigorate” the EPA. 

Orica Botany couldn’t invigorate the EPA with year after year of environmental vandalism but now all is well and it’s about, to use Mr Sullivan’s words about “being a good neighbour.” Mr Sullivan can champion all the reforms to acts he likes.  What he needs to champion is actually regulating polluters and Orica stands, in this City at least, at the head of the queue.  I think Orica also heads the queue in Newcastle. 

The less than reinvigorated EPA hasn’t been a protector of the environment in our City for years.  I can only hope Mr Sullivan’s reinvigorated EPA steps up to the plate in the years ahead.

Only time will tell if we see words, or action. Then, hopefully, I can eat my cornflakes without problem.

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