Tony Moore, 27 November 2015

Caltex Refinery at the Port of Brisbane has been fined $60,000 after tonnes of white dust – used to turn crude oil into petrol – was released, covering cars and workers.

The company was fined in the Wynnum Magistrates Court for releasing between 80 and 90 tonnes of catalytic dust from the refinery in May 2014, which caused serious irritation to the eyes of two people and covered hundreds of cars and buildings at the Port of Brisbane.

“This resulted in a strong odour being released. Local businesses were evacuated and staff and students at nearby schools were treated by ambulance officers, with two students being transported to hospital,” a media statement from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection said.

The power, a synthetic zeolite, was released from the Caltex Refinery into the air between 11pm on on May 19 and 1am on May 20.

It came down on hundreds of port employees as well as new cars stored beside the refinery, Fairfax Media reported on June 3 last year.

The company was taken to court by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection for breaching its environmental operating conditions.

The alarm was raised in May 2014 by the Bulimba Creek Catchment Association, worried that the sludge ended up in local waterways.

Spokesman Wayne Cameron in early June 2014 said staff worried about being covered with the dust from the refinery and the sludge which ran on the cars.

“They had to gurney it off and then wash it off the cars because when they gurneyed the shade cloth, all this stuff came down like a sludge onto the cars – and they are all brand new cars.”

Mr Cameron said he was initially told by staff it was a platinum-based powder.

“It is mixed with the crude oil and the chemical reaction under pressure creates petrol,” he said.

“Now I am not claiming it is a toxic chemical, but I don’t know.”

Mr Cameron said another concern was the impact on birds and water.

“My initial concerns are that this 90 tonnes of powder has gone into environmentally sensitive areas like Crab Tree Creek and Swan Lake in the same way it has descended on the car yard.”

In a statement released on Thursday night Environment Minister Steven Miles said the company pleaded guilty to four environmental offences.

That included two charges of breaching its environmental approvals to start up the refinery, where it was fined $20,000.

It was also fined $40,000 for failing to ensure that it disposed of waste at an “approved regulated waste facility” and “failing to complete waste transport documentation”.

After inspecting the site after the powder was released over May 19 and 20, Department of Environment and Heritage Protection staff found the company had not taken the waste to a waste disposal site.

Caltex also spent about $750,000 to remove the dust from the affected cars and buildings, the court was told.

The company was also ordered to pay an additional $8652 in investigation and legal costs for both matters.

No convictions were recorded, because the company advised the department of the dust release in late May 2014.

Dr Miles said the Department of Environmental Health and Protection would prosecute any operator that did not obey its environmental approvals.

“This company failed to comply with the conditions of its approvals resulting in dust and odour being released to the atmosphere and an unacceptable impact on human health,” Dr Miles said.

Extracted in full from the Brisbane Times.