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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

EPA fines sugar co-op $15,000 over toxic discharge

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The NSW Sugar Milling Co-Operative has been fined $15,000 over a toxic discharge into the Richmond River from the Broadwater mill in September, 10 months after being cautioned for a similar incident at the company’s Harwood mill.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) says the company system’s had failed to prevent an uncontrolled discharge from the Broadwater mill of around 1,000 litres of caustic solution into the river on 8 September, during an evaporator cleaning operation.

EPA’s north coast manager Brett Nudd said that while the discharge into thew river had no immediately identifiable environmental impacts, it was ‘a disappointing result’ given the EPA’s Official Caution over the Harwood incident in November, 2014.

Mr Nudd said that immediately following the incident, the co-op submitted an incident report ‘confirming that a number of critical monitoring and control systems had either not been in place or were incorrectly implemented’.

‘Despite the company’s commitment to improved system management and operator training following the first incident, it failed to ensure appropriate controls were implemented across its three premises resulting in the most recent incident,’ he said.

‘This re-occurrence prompted the EPA to issue the penalty notice to NSW Sugar Milling Co-Operative for failure to comply with a condition of its Environment Protection Licence which requires “all plant and equipment at the premises to be maintained and operated in a proper and efficient condition and manner”.

‘NSW Sugar Milling has advised the EPA that it has committed to a review of its maintenance and control procedures and improved staff training to ensure that there are no further recurrences in the future.
‘The EPA will be closely monitoring the company’s performance to assess the effectiveness of these revised procedures.’

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

Mr Nudd said the EPA must also take a range of factors into account ‘before delivering a proportionate regulatory response, including the degree of environmental harm, whether or not there are any real or potential health impacts, if the action of the offender was deliberate, compliance history, public interest and best environmental outcomes’.

For more information about the EPA’s compliance policy visit http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/prosguid.htm.

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  1. With fishing co-op waste in Ballina, upstream farm nutrient run off, though slightly diminished at present, do we really need that sugar mill belching toxic waste into Richmond river. It really is a filthy industry, chemical use in growth & production should not be tolerated. And a fine long after a warning is verging on laughable. Such a paltry amount. Shark food abounds. Should we be looking at our own practices to understand what is attracting sharks to this veritable smörgåsbord.

    • Breath- taking connection of a series of unrelated issues Cherrie, you forgot to blame them for global warming! My point is that irrelevant connection of unrelated matters actually distracts from the issue…
      Why is this mill being so slow at developing safe maintenance practices???? ‘Committed to review of practices’ is corporate speak for we are doing nothing, but we are making noise.Apparently it’s cheaper to risk the fine(s), than fix the problem. Let’s hope the EPA has given them a time limit to fix the problem!

  2. Haven’t seen our response to the EPA press release being published by the Echo net.

    But here it is:
    The solution that was spilt was only a 5% caustic mix in with 1,000 litres of water and then immediately diluted into 8,000 litres of cooling water.

    The EPA acknowledged in the discussions that we had on this issue that there was no environmental impact because the spill was minimal and significantly diluted. The EPA press release is a misrepresentation of the actual release.

    Effectively, if we hadn’t reported the incident the world would have been none the wiser because there is no impact.

    The EPA acknowledged that our systems and follow up approach in addressing the issues was very sound. We take a lot of pride in our continuous improvement programs that are now the operational foundation of our business. The approach has seen significant changes in the culture and management of the environment and for that matter safety and employee relationships. Bonsucro (international sustainability) certification was achieved on the back of these programs. We are in fact the only 100% Bonsucro certified sugar producer in the world.

    Whilst acknowledging there was an incident we wonder whether fining the business does anything more than put funds back into the State Governments coffers. It will make no difference to the way we approach our responsibilities and we will continue to develop and implement better systems as part of our continuous improvement programs.

    Our view is the fine would have been better spent targeting those continuous improvement outcomes. Perhaps the EPA staff are being handed rules that simply don’t allow them to deal with the real commitments that our type of business is making where without doubt there are significant and ongoing improvements.

    To answer the question posed on developing safe maintenance practices. We are not slow.
    What we are is truthful – we reported something that nobody new about and put in place changes to ensure it couldn’t happen again.

    There was no need for the EPA to give us a time limit in dealing with the Broadwater Mill issue. It was dealt with immediately and well before EPA were even involved.

    We do have a continuous improvement program that is highly recognized and adopted across the business and we have a team from all three mills working on a continuous improvement project in the control areas across the mills so that we can implement a fail safe system that takes out the human error risk.

    As for the $15k – I would rather have it directed at the continuous improvement program than going into government revenue.

    The disappointing thing about this that we are getting a bashing when we are considered to be one of the most sustainable (environmentally) in the world and we work hard at that.

    As I write this we haven’t actually received a letter or fine from the EPA only seen the press release.


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