The Koppers site in Newcastle | Koppers
The state’s environmental watchdog has put a business with a “history” of breaches on notice following an incident in Newcastle.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) fined chemical and material manufacturer Koppers Carbon Materials and Chemicals $15 000 for failing to transfer tar-based substances onto a ship properly at Mayfield North in September last year.
The incident occurred as hot coal tar pitch being loaded onto a ship came into contact with water, which increased pressure in the vessel’s storage compartments and activated safety relief valves releasing potentially harmful fumes into the atmosphere.
The EPA’s investigation found the loading happened too quickly, and that Koppers was aware of the issue after workers had previously stopped transferring the substances twice before the safety feature was activated.
The company self-reported the incident to the EPA which subsequently deemed it an alleged breach of Kopper’s environment protection licence.
EPA Executive Director of Regulatory Operations, Jason Gordon said while the EPA is unaware of any offsite impacts, Koppers has a duty to ensure hazardous materials are handled appropriately.
“Exposure to vapour from coal tar pitch is environmentally hazardous, and Koppers could have taken measures to prevent this incident from occurring,” Mr Gordon said.
“We consider the incident was foreseeable and Koppers must prioritise compliance in its day-to-day operations. Extra care is needed when working on our waterways to protect our communities and sensitive marine habitats.
“Safety relief valves are designed for emergencies and their activation should be a last resort to prevent potential harm to the environment and public health.”
Since 2012, the EPA has issued 21 notices, official cautions and prosecutions in the Land and Environment Court to Koppers.
These previous matters relate to odour complaints, air pollution and spilling coal tar pitch onto a wharf.
Mr Gordon said the EPA is beyond disappointed with the actions of Koppers, who continue to breach the obligations under their licence.
“The Kopper’s site has a history of breaching environmental laws, and the community has the right to expect better from its industrial neighbours,” he said.
“We are monitoring operations closely and may consider other regulatory action if the company commits future alleged offences.”
Newcastle-based Australian Operations Manager Nick Moretti said Koppers has already implemented additional measures to prevent increases in pressure from activating safety relief valves and releasing water and fumes when loading ships at its Mayfield berth.
These include supervisors boarding vessels to monitor pressure from within the ship’s control room.
“We self-reported the incident to the EPA, conducted our own internal investigation and promptly implemented corrective actions,” Mr Moretti said.
Mr Moretti said the company took its obligations seriously and considered protecting the environment, its 60 staff members and the community its “top priority”.
“Koppers has worked closely with the EPA, customers and the community to improve its operational and environmental performance. Over the last 15 years, Koppers has spent more than $40 million on capital projects to improve the efficiency and environmental performance of the Mayfield facility”
“Our plant has had no odour complaints directly attributable to our operations since August 2022.”
The Mayfield plant has been operating for more than 50 years and reuses coal tar from Australian steelworks to produce coal tar pitch – an essential raw material for Australian aluminium smelters – as well as other products.