The Land and Environment Court has found Bartter Enterprises Pty. Limited guilty of discharging ammonia gas during upgrades to a poultry processing facility at Beresfield NSW that caused the evacuation of an adjoining processing building.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) commenced the prosecution after 17 people were treated by ambulance onsite and a further nine employees were transported to hospital and were treated for chemical exposure following an incident at the facility in mid-2018.
The Court found the defendant guilty of contravening their Environment Protection Licence which requires Bartter to maintain plant and equipment in a proper and efficient condition.
EPA Director Operations Metro North Adam Gilligan said Bartter engaged a contractor to undertake upgrades to its ammonia refrigeration system at the premises when the gas was introduced to an open system.
“After the gas was introduced to a circuit it was subsequently discharged into the atmosphere. Ammonia was then detected in an adjacent building,” Mr Gilligan said.
Her Honour Justice Duggan found that ammonia was introduced into a circuit when it was not capable of containing the ammonia. Her Honour noted due to the physical state of the circuit Bartter were in breach of their licence.
Mr Gilligan said the Court’s decision is a reminder for all operators to consider the safety of their staff, the environment and the local community uppermost in their minds when using potentially hazardous materials.
“It is important that anyone who handles hazardous materials, particularly in the proximity of others, uses it correctly and safely.”
The case involved witnesses giving evidence remotely over video conference.
The EPA investigates all reports of environmental harm and encourages anyone with a concern, or knowledge of potential breaches in their local area, to contact the 24-hour Environment Line on 131 555.