A Geelong fertiliser company has been fined $120,000 with conviction after toxic and highly corrosive sludge overflowed into Corio Bay through disused pipes.
Incitec Pivot Limited (Incitec) today pleaded guilty in Geelong Magistrates’ Court to four counts of breaching the Environment Protection Act 1970 after an investigation by Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA).
The court heard City of Greater Geelong were forced to remove approximately 9.6 tonnes of contaminated soil after the sludge was discovered in the carpark of the North Shore Fishing Platform on 24 May 2017. The sludge had a pH level of between 2 and 3.
It was initially believed the material had been illegally dumped until another incident on 19 June 2017 when Incitec determined that the industrial waste water was bubbling up through a former seawater cooling system which the company had thought was decommissioned.
Incitec was required to remove approximately 60m2 from the carpark and 80m2 from the seabed of Corio Bay. The substance was highly corrosive with a pH level between 1 and 2 and concentrations of cadmium in the sediment were in excess of the environmental guidelines required to maintain healthy aquatic life.
Incitec has since plugged the pipes, which were used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid, revegetated the embankment area with native plants and improved its practices to reduce the risk of further discharges.
EPA CEO Dr Cathy Wilkinson said the fine reflected the seriousness of the offending.
“Out of sight is not out of mind; if Incitec had properly decommissioned the seawater cooling system at the time, these incidents would never have happened,” she said.
“EPA and the community are working to not just maintain but improve the health of our environment for future generation and we expect all licence-holders to do the same.”
Dr Wilkinson said Incitec had four prior court matters from 2001, 2002 and 2003.
“This offending was around the time when the seawater cooling system was decommissioned in 2004, so environmental protection should have been front of mind,” she said.
“All companies should ensure they have a thorough and regular program of maintenance so any issues like this are identified as soon as possible.”
Incitec was also ordered to pay EPA’s costs of $8,000 and has already committed to repay City of Greater Geelong more than $18,000 for the May clean up.