THERE were no alarms or warnings at Dyno Nobel’s Warkworth explosives manufacturing site in January and February, 2015 when toxic waste flowed into a neighbouring farm dam where up to 80 cattle, many pregnant, were confined.
Five cows died, including one that was found with a partly aborted calf, also dead.
It was a series of small failures that led to the distressing incident. A valve failed. A contractor moved a pipe out of a holding dam during maintenance work. There was excessive rain and an overflow.
But there was a larger issue that contributed to the size of the penalty imposed on Dyno Nobel by NSW Land and Environment Court Justice Tim Moore – a $460,000 fine and an order to pay the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s $72,000 legal bill.
Dyno Nobel, a subsidiary of Incitec Pivot, and a company whose founder, dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, gave his name to the Nobel Prize, appeared not to prioritise environment protection despite dealing with highly toxic chemicals and its proximity to the Hunter River.
The court heard a vital valve within the wastewater management system was not within the company’s regular maintenance schedule and had not been inspected for five years. There were no alarms or fault-detection mechanisms associated with the movement of highly toxic wastewater from the site via a pipe to two holding dams.
Five cattle suffered painful deaths and a calf was partly aborted and died after a final, simple act – a contract worker lifted a discharge pipe from a holding dam and a large amount of toxic wastewater travelled from the Dyno Nobel site for some distance before polluting the only dam nearly 80 cattle relied on. The wastewater stopped just 200 metres from the Hunter River.
EPA chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford said the incident was “avoidable and completely unacceptable”, and the large penalty sent a strong message.
Justice Tim Moore issued a final rebuke to Dyno Nobel after the company argued that a “name and shame” public notice of the conviction in a number of newspapers should appear without saying cattle had died.
It was not appropriate to “soften or sanitise” what took place, Justice Moore said, before ordering that the notice had to refer specifically to the death of cattle and the partial abortion of a calf. Environmental pollution is a serious crime, in other words.