Yabulu re­fin­ery fail­ure leaves res­i­dents reel­ing

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - TONY RAGGATT tony. raggatt@ news. com. au

It was an aw­ful smell. This is the sec­ond time in six months


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.

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