Cockburn Cement and regulator battle over residential stench

Residents and regulators are continuing a long fight against against the smell and dust from Cockburn Cement's plant on the edges of suburban Perth.

Cockburn Cement and regulator battle over residential stench

This story was originally published in The West Australian on 24 April 2018 with the headline "Suburban stink over Cockburn Cement." © Peter Milne.

Residents of the southern suburbs of Beeliar and Munster say they are plagued by dust and stench from a coal-burning lime plant that is resisting a pollution crackdown by the State Government despite its emissions being deemed high risk.

The future of the Cockburn Cement plant in Munster, owned by the $4 billion Adelaide Brighton, will soon be considered by the Environment Minister Stephen Dawson after appeals by residents and the City of Cockburn driven by years of dust and sulphur-like odours.

The site has been operating since the early 1950s but it is now encroached by subdivisions in Munster and Beeliar that stop at a 1.5km buffer zone.

Up to 1.25 million tonnes of lime can be produced each year by heating in two giant coal and gas-fired lime kilns sand dredged from Cockburn Sound and piped 7km to the plant.

The plant is vital to the State’s alumina and gold industries.

Alcoa’s three refineries and South32’s Worsley refinery need 70 per cent of the production as an ingredient in extracting alumina from bauxite.

Gold refining consumes another 20 per cent of the lime.

Community concerns drove a parliamentary inquiry that reported in 2011.

Since then, two smaller kilns have been put into care and maintenance, and $42 million was on spent on filters to reduce dust emissions from the stacks of the two operating lime kilns.

A regulatory battle

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation received 187 complaints about the plant last year.

The regulator imposed more stringent conditions in December 2016 after it concluded that odour from the two lime kilns and dust were a high risk.

A 200-page appeal by nearby resident and retired lawyer Greg Hocking claimed the proposed new licence conditions were insufficient.

It urged extra measures including a ban on coal, filtering of sulphur from ground water used by the plant, stricter monitoring of emissions and for Cockburn Cement to be liable for cleaning homes covered in dust.

The City of Cockburn has appealed against a 20-year licence extension awarded by the Barnett government as part of a broader move to slash environmental green tape.

The council said in a January 2017 letter to the Appeals Convenor that the dust and odour impacts on the community were unacceptable, the plant had not taken reasonable measures to reduce them or been open and transparent with the community.

The council said it supported the intent of Mr Hocking’s appeal.

Cockburn Cement has appealed on 21 grounds, claiming some of the conditions imposed in December 2016 were impossible or unreasonable to achieve, according to the City of Cockburn letter.

While the appeals are investigated, the plant can operate under the less stringent conditions of the earlier licence.

Adelaide Brighton cement and lime manager Brad Lemmon said the company believed its current licence was broadly appropriate and it had appealed because of a range of reasons, mainly technical.

He said the company received reports from residents of intermittent odours and continued to try to find the source at its plant and improve its environmental performance.

Appeals Convenor Emma Gaunt said her investigation was nearly done and then she would provide recommendations to the minister.

Mr Dawson said he had great sympathy for the residents and would resolve the appeal as soon as he could.

Main picture: Cockburn Cement plant in Munster.

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