EPA provides new detail on Koppers benzene investigation

THEORETICAL: A Koppers image of likely benzene levels. Only the three dark blue areas are regarded as over the EPA limit of 29 micrograms of benzene per cubic metre of air.
THEORETICAL: A Koppers image of likely benzene levels. Only the three dark blue areas are regarded as over the EPA limit of 29 micrograms of benzene per cubic metre of air.

NEW accounts of how the Environment Protection Authority investigated benzene emissions from the Koppers plant at Mayfield raised more questions than they answered, Mayfield activist John Hayes said on Friday.

Earlier this week, Koppers told the Newcastle Herald that concerns over its benzene emissions had been allayed after the company found it had “overstated its own emissions” and had sent new figures to correct the National Pollutant Inventory as a result.

And in May, EPA director Adam Gilligan said its investigations showed that Koppers had been “complying with all current regulations”, but it had ordered changes to its operations in order to “improve the control of benzene emissions”.

But in a statement to the Herald on Friday, the EPA said the pollutant inventory figures were “quite separate” to its investigation. In May it directed Koppers to stop using solvents – “the highest source of benzene” – and to make other changes to its processes on site.

“As a result of the actions required by the EPA, subsequent modelling data provided by Koppers indicated that emissions leaving the premises were below the required standards, which is a favourable outcome for the local community,” the EPA said.

Mr Hayes, convener of the Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield Group, pointed out the EPA said the further modelling was done “once Koppers had ceased storing solvents and undertaking operations potentially contributing to the release of uncontrolled benzene”.

“This seems to be showing that there have been years of over-the-limits emissions of benzene, which is not what the EPA was saying when it briefed the Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment and our group,” Mr Hayes said.

The EPA said a human health risk assessment had been carried out, and its findings were still being reviewed by the NSW Department of Health and an independent expert.

Koppers has a community day with site tours of its Woodstock Street, Mayfield, plant today from 10am to 2pm.

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