BREAKING: Investigation launched into harbour chemical spill

25th September 2017 6:22 PM
Aerial View of Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) Gladstone.



Photo Brenda Strong / The Observer Aerial View of Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) Gladstone. Photo Brenda Strong / The Observer Brenda Strong GLA040712VIEW

THE Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) is investigating a reported sodium hydroxide spill from a vessel at QAL wharf into the Gladstone Harbour overnight.

EHP was notified today an unconfirmed amount of sodium hydroxide had been released from a vessel at QAL wharf, into Gladstone Harbour.

While investigations are ongoing to determine the exact amount of sodium hydroxide spilled, initial reports suggest a loss of "several tonnes".

At this stage, it is believed that the most likely area for any impacts to occur is to the south of the QAL wharf, because the release occurred at high tide.

A QAL spokesperson said in a statement to The Observer the "caustic discharge" happened when "caustic material" was being unloaded from the berthed vessel at 10.45pm last night.

"Caustic is pumped from vessels into storage tanks through large pipes," the spokesperson said.

"It is believed a portion of this flow has bypassed into the seawater flushing lines and into the ocean."

The spokesperson said they immediately shut the system off and notified the Harbour Master and DEHP.

EHP officers conducted a site assessment at first light today.

Staff from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) have been using a boat to undertake visual assessments of the shoreline in an effort to identify any impacts.

The incident has the potential to impact the local marine ecology and damage vessels that come into contact with the chemical.

"Extensive monitoring of the harbour and downstream areas has taken place overnight and today and has not shown any signs of environment damage including changes to pH levels and impact to fish and ocean species," the QAL spokesperson said.

Caustic is used at QAL to assist in the extraction of alumina from bauxite. Caustic neutralises when mixed with seawater.

"QAL takes our environmental responsibility very seriously and we are currently assisting DEHP with their investigation," they said.

The department will continue to work with other Queensland departments, relevant stakeholders and local governments to provide a thorough response to the incident.

Matters of this nature can be reported through EHP's pollution hotline on 1300 130 372.