SUBURB CHOKED BY FOUL STENCH
Yabulu refinery failure leaves residents reeling
It was an awful smell. This is the second time in six months
SAUNDERS BEACH RESIDENT
EQUIPMENT failure at Queensland Nickel’s Yabulu refinery is behind a foul stench that blanketed Saunders Beach on Sunday night.
Residents shut up their homes and some reported a burning sensation in their eyes as an acrid smell descended on the township, 25km north of Townsville, about 8pm.
Queensland Nickel would not return calls yesterday but the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection confirmed equipment failure was the cause of the odour.
“Inquiries by EHP have established Queensland Nickel Refinery experienced an equipment failure that prevented the on- site management of ammonia during the period the odour complaints were received,” a department spokesman said.
Ammonia solutions are used extensively in the refining processes at Yabulu for the leaching and washing of metals, and is boiled off to produce nickel carbonate.
Queensland Fire and Rescue Service confirmed it sent an air monitoring team to Saunders Beach and conducted tests of the atmosphere.
A spokesman said the smell had dissipated by the time officers arrived on the scene and that the tests had returned “zero readings”.
“We did tests and there was nothing showing on our equipment,” the spokesman said.
The QFRS spokesman said the refinery had said staff had been using ammonia scrubbers on tanks.
One resident, who did not want to be identified, said the community was “shrouded in a toxic smell” about 8pm that was “awful”, and which for other residents caused their eyes to burn.
“It was an awful smell,” the resident said. “This is the second time it has occurred in six months.”
Residents who posted comments about the smell on the Facebook page “Saunders Beach News” questioned whether they should be closing their homes or opening them to improve ventilation.
The QFRS spokesman said the advice of its Brisbane- based scientific unit was that residents should immediately close their doors and windows, particularly if the smell was coming downwind towards them.
“If the smell is downwind coming towards them from ( Queensland Nickel Industries), they are to close their windows and contact emergency services straight away,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman said the refinery should let residents in the area know what was happening.
On Facebook, one resident said they were coughing and that their throat was burning, while another said her eyes were hurting and that she had washed them out with milk.
The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection spokesman said Queensland Nickel had corrected the fault that caused the smell.
The spokesman urged people to report bad smells to the department’s pollution line on 1300 130 372.
AWFUL SMELL: An equipment fault at the Yabulu refinery is apparently fixed.