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AUSTRALIA: Toxic cocktail released in fire

by 
Jason Gregory, Michael Corkill and Margaret Slocombe
The Courier Mail
June 29th, 2006

A HIGH-LEVEL government report into toxic hazards at a notorious industrial estate north of Brisbane is expected to find several violations of chemical storage rules by businesses located on the site.

And court documents have revealed that smoke from a massive chemical factory fire last year at the Narangba Industrial Estate might have included toxic substances capable of causing serious harm to humans, animals and plants.

The report, compiled by officers from the Caboolture Shire Council and state government agencies, is expected to raise a series of concerns with the operation of the estate, including inadequate or improper handling and storage of chemicals, the lack of a co-ordinated emergency plan and fire safety issues.

Senior state bureaucrats have told all businesses in the estate that the Government plans to take action to address issues contained in the report, due to be released next month.

As about 200 local residents press on with legal action against the Government and councils for allowing their homes to be built too close to the estate, more details have emerged about the toxic chemicals released into the area during last year's blaze at Binary Industries. The Government has refused to release a list of the hazardous chemicals lost in the fire but the poisons allegedly stored by Binary Industries have emerged in a private Supreme Court claim for $888,000 in damages.

Generex Australia, a private company which claimed to have lost about 170,000 litres of insecticides and herbicides in the August 25 blaze, said it had 23 types of chemicals stored there. In documents related to its action against Binary Industries, Generex provided a list which cited chemicals and poisons that studies show are capable of causing health problems.

Among the poisons was a small amount of chlorpyrifos, a chemical which countries such as the US believed was capable of causing neurological damage in children. It was reportedly banned from large scale manufacture and supply in Australia six years ago as it was considered highly toxic to aquatic, avian and reptilian species.

There was also Bifenthrin, typically used to kill termites, but capable of causing respiratory irritation, depression of the central nervous system, dizziness, and disturbances in vision. And Hexazinone, under scrutiny for its alleged toxicity to humans, and its solubility in water and the potential that has for causing groundwater contamination.

Generex Australia reported losing about 60,000 litres of the herbicide Glyphosate.

Also lost was about 40,000 litres of another herbicide, 2,4-D, which has been found in southern states to be capable of destroying nearby crops if it is vaporised and carried by wind.

Caboolture shire councillor and Narangba estate reference group chair Chris Whiting said he expected the report would find serious issues with both individual businesses and broadly across the estate.

"We are expecting a very in-depth report with very good recommendations," he said.

Other issues likely to be addressed in the report include the need for a central and updated manifest of chemicals held on the site and the construction of adequate firebreaks.

In a letter to businesses in the estate this week, Acting State Development director-general Stuart Booker reiterated the Government's plan to "recommend options" for certain industries to move out of the estate.

Premier Peter Beattie has already indicated that four business will go.






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