NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA)

Chemical and material manufacturer Koppers Carbon Materials and Chemicals has been fined $15,000 by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for failing to transfer tar-based substances onto a ship properly at Mayfield North in September last year.

The incident occurred as hot coal tar pitch being loaded onto a ship came into contact with water, which increased pressure in the vessel’s storage compartments and activated safety relief valves releasing potentially harmful fumes into the atmosphere.

The EPA’s investigation found the loading happened too quickly, and that Koppers was aware of the issue after workers had previously stopped transferring the substances twice before the safety feature was activated.

The incident resulted in an alleged breach of Kopper’s environment protection licence.

EPA Executive Director of Regulatory Operations, Jason Gordon said while the EPA is unaware of any offsite impacts, Koppers has a duty to ensure hazardous materials are handled appropriately.

“Exposure to vapour from coal tar pitch is environmentally hazardous, and Koppers could have taken measures to prevent this incident from occurring,” Mr Gordon said.

“We consider the incident was foreseeable and Koppers must prioritise compliance in its day-to-day operations. Extra care is needed when working on our waterways to protect our communities and sensitive marine habitats.

“Safety relief valves are designed for emergencies and their activation should be a last resort to prevent potential harm to the environment and public health.”

Since 2012, the EPA has issued 21 notices, official cautions and prosecutions in the Land and Environment Court to Koppers. These previous matters relate to odour complaints, air pollution and spilling coal tar pitch onto a wharf.

Mr Gordon said the EPA is beyond disappointed with the actions of Koppers, who continue to breach the obligations under their licence.

“The Kopper’s site has a history of breaching environmental laws, and the community has the right to expect better from its industrial neighbours,” he said.

“We are monitoring operations closely and may consider other regulatory action if the company commits future alleged offences.”

Penalty notices are one of several regulatory tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, including formal warnings, licence conditions, notices and directions, mandatory audits, legally binding pollution reduction programs, enforceable undertakings, and prosecutions.

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/Public Release.