Koppers Carbon Materials and Chemicals Pty Ltd has been convicted and ordered to pay a total of $82,500, following prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for a spill of coal tar pitch and unlicensed fume emissions at its Mayfield plant.
Koppers was convicted of three offences in the Land and Environment Court and has been ordered to pay $82,500 to the Port Stephens Koala and Wildlife Preservation Society Ltd, in lieu of a fine, to train volunteers for the Port Stephens Koala Hospital. Koppers was also ordered to pay the EPA’s legal costs.
The charges relate to a coal tar pitch spill following a power outage in October 2018, the release of fumes from a pitch storage system on consecutive days in May 2019 and reports of health impacts on members of the local community.
In handing down the sentences, Justice Robson found that the incidents caused harm to the environment and that Koppers could have taken measures to prevent this harm.
Several reports of workers feeling unwell were received by the EPA at the time of the incidents, including one person who reported feeling like he was choking and needed a respirator for breathing difficulties. Another person suffered a sore throat and a headache lasting two days.
Health impacts of exposure to coal tar pitch fumes for a short period of time can include headaches, nausea, irritation of the throat and eyes and coughing.
EPA Acting Director Regulatory Operations David Gathercole welcomed the decision showing that companies would be held accountable for breaches of environmental law.
“The release of fumes such can have serious impacts on the health of people in surrounding communities, as well as on the environment,” Mr Gathercole said.
“The EPA is continuing to closely monitor Koppers’ operations. We’ve required significant improvements in performance through prevention notices, pollution reduction programs and licence changes, since this incident.
“The Koppers site has been the subject of numerous odour complaints over the years. We’re working with the company to ensure necessary action to improve the functioning of the fume system at the plant is taken, to help reduce the potential for unlicensed air emissions.”