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An environment authority is assuring the community that methyl bromide levels emanating from a Goulburn timber treatment facility are safe.
Several homeowners close to Chicago Freight Rail Services’ rail hub at 67 Braidwood Road have taken their concerns to the Environment Protection Authority. They claimed the community had been “hoodwinked” by the company about discharge levels. They also told The Post they could smell the fumigant.
But Ian Gibbs, the chief executive of parent company, Chicago Freight Asia Pacific, accused them of “skulduggery.”
“It’s emotive and people are plucking numbers out of the air. There is no science behind them and I find the whole thing very upsetting,” he said.
The rail hub fumigates timber destined for export with methyl bromide. It is a potentially neuro-toxic gas which can affect the central nervous system, but only at high levels.
In December, 2015 when the council granted consent conditional approval for the rail hub, the EPA issued a licence dictating that methyl bromide could be released from containers at a minimum 4120 parts/million (ppm).
This was despite a council report and company statements at the December 1, 2015 meeting that it would only be five parts/million.
The discrepancy has inflamed fears and sparked questions. The EPA has investigated and undertaken a routine audit of the operation. A spokeswoman said there had been no breaches of licence conditions and that company monitoring results demonstrated the 4120ppm of methyl bromide released, dissipated to 5ppm “within a very short time” at the 10-metre exclusion zone.
The EPA explained it granted the licence after the company demonstrated through its air quality assessment that even in a “worst case scenario” methyl bromide’s concentration wouldn’t exceed 0.09ppm at the boundary of the premises.
“This equates to approximately 1/50th of the Safe Work Australia workplace exposure standard of 5ppm,” a spokeswoman said.
Chicago Freight Asia Pacific CEO, Ian Gibbs.
Operation complies: CEOMr Gibbs said he would never endanger his workers or the Goulburn community.
“If it was causing issues I would shut it down straight away but it is compliant...I would never put our employees or the community at risk. If I thought methyl bromide levels were at such a high concentration to affect people, I simply wouldn’t allow it to happen,” Mr Gibbs said.
Nevertheless, he said the company was well aware of all the compliance requirements, including the conditions under which the substance should be released. Further, it was happy to work with the EPA in response to residents’ complaints.
Asked whether the company had changed its operations as a result of the EPA investigation, Mr Gibbs said it was doing “everything possible.” This included additional people doing monitoring and more regular data supplied to the EPA. The Authority was also undertaking more monitoring.
“Everyone should be comfortable that everything is being done to make the community safe,” he said.
But he told The Post that residents’ claims they could smell the fumigant were “implausible.” Methyl bromide was an odourless substance.
Mr Gibbs said while the EPA had licensed a “minimum 4120” parts per million (ppm) of methyl bromide upon opening log containers, it was “nowhere near this.” Results had showed it was closer to 25 to 30ppm when opened but after 30 minutes, it dropped to 5ppm at the 10-metre exclusion zone from the containers.
If it was causing issues I would shut it down straight away...- Ian Gibbs, Chicago Freight
EPA respondsThe EPA has upped its monitoring of the rail hub in response to residents’ representations.
“We understand that the community has some concerns about the operations; we will continue talking to them to address these,” a spokeswoman said.
“The EPA is confident that the right requirements are in place to safeguard the community and environment. (We) will continue to review the company’s operations to monitor their compliance with the licence requirements.”
The Authority had reviewed onsite monitoring by the company during venting of fumigation containers.
“The results have demonstrated that at 10 metres from the nearest container being opened, the concentration of methyl bromide drops below the workplace exposure standard of 5ppm within a short period of time.
“The EPA has also carried out a routine audit of the premises and has required the licensee to undertake a review of their operations with regards to industry best practice and report to the EPA by March 21, 2017.”
Asked about the apparent discrepancy in company statements of only 5ppm upon opening of containers and the 4120ppm granted in the EPA licence, the spokeswoman said the Authority had “carefully considered” all factors before granting the permit.
The EPA said it would not call for independent monitoring of the site but continue to review onsite checks.
Former Chicago Freight Rail Services manager, Mick Cooper with log-filled containers at the Braidwood Road site in July, 2016.
Mayor chips inMayor Bob Kirk says he is no expert on methyl bromide.
“But I have certainly heard residents’ concerns and I have taken those to our planning people,” he said.
“In terms of methyl bromide, its management, control and monitoring, the EPA is the proper authority and we have also taken those concerns to it. They assure me that the operation complies with all their (EPA) requirements and there is no need for concern by anyone in the community.”
However the council and the EPA will have further meetings “to allay any further fears.”
Council management declined to answer The Post’s questions, including on whether it ever received a response from NSW Health on the original development application , which had been requested in 2015. The reply had not been received by the time councillors considered the DA at their December 1, 2015 meeting. At the time, then councillor Robin Saville said it should have been a “minimum requirement.”
Council general manager Warwick Bennett instead referred the newspaper to the EPA.
This article first appeared on www.goulburnpost.com.au
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