London, (Pal Telegraph) – THE company at the centre of the Esperance lead poisoning scandal has been suspended from exporting the toxic heavy metal through Fremantle.
Acting WA Environment Minister Peter Collier yesterday revealed that monitoring equipment had detected the dangerous powdered carbonate outside double-lined sealed bags in rail containers breaching Magellan Metals’ environmental licence.
He refused to say if the company would forfeit part or all of its $5 million performance bond a condition of its ministerial approval to export the product through 22 local government authorities to Fremantle Harbour.
Three years ago Magellan Metals was banned from operating out of Esperance where contamination from lead dust caused the deaths of thousands of birds and high-lead blood levels among residents.
By late Friday Mr Collier issued a stop order on the company transporting the material from its mine site in Wiluna, 980km northeast of Perth, by road and rail to Fremantle.
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He was unable to say exactly how much of the lead was discovered in the rail containers, commenting it was “a small amount in a small number of containers”.
He said Magellan had until January 17 to prepare a report on the incident, after which the Office of Environmental Protection Authority would make its own assessments.
Mr Collier reassured the Fremantle community and outlying suburbs that their health had not been compromised.
“The advice I have received is there is no risk to the community whatsoever,” he said.
But former Fremantle mayor and outspoken anti-lead campaigner Peter Tagliaferri said the discovery confirmed the public was at “great risk”.
“This really makes a disgraceful mockery of former environment minister Donna Faragher’s promise that any breach would lead to the cancellation of the export licence,” he said.
“The conditions were touted as some of the toughest ever imposed on the exportation of hazardous cargo.
“Esperance was a disaster. How many chances will this company get before people start dropping dead?”
Fremantle MP Adele Carles said the public should be alarmed and she was angry Magellan had been put in charge of the investigation. “It’s like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank,” she said.
Ms Carles said the train that brought the lead into Fremantle also passed through residential suburbs, including Guildford, Bibra Lake and Spearwood.
She said Magellan should never have been allowed to export lead through Fremantle, given its record in Esperance.
Magellan’s parent company, Ivernia, issued a statement yesterday saying it wanted to resume exporting lead from Fremantle as soon as possible.
It said airborne lead levels in the sealed containers were below accepted levels established by the Australian National Occupational Safety and Health Commission.
“Monitoring equipment installed by an independent inspector identified the presence of airborne lead from Magellan within a small number of containers,” the statement said.
“All airborne lead levels in the sealed containers were consistently below accepted occupational health levels established by the Australian National Occupational Safety and Health Commission.
“Extensive monitoring, sampling and analysis from close to 300 individual soil, air, and water samples sites has not shown the presence of any lead from the Magellan Mine along the road and rail route after more than a year of transport operations.
“However, it is a condition of the Health, Hygiene and Environmental Monitoring Program for the Magellan Mine that transport should cease if Magellan lead is found to be present in the air inside the sealed shipping containers that transport the double-lined bags of lead concentrate from the Magellan Mine to its customers.
“The company is focused on addressing issues that may be identified in relation to its loading operations and recommencing transport operations as soon as the issue is resolved to the satisfaction of the Government of Western Australia.”
On Christmas Eve, Transport Minister Troy Buswell suspended lead shipments out of Geraldton as a “precautionary measure” after an incident showed lead levels in excess of the port’s environmental licence.