Sulphuric acid spills at Rio Tinto site

Kym Agius

March 25, 2011

Queensland’s environment department says an alumina refinery owned by Rio Tinto has spilt sulphuric acid into a creek in central Queensland.

Rio Tinto notified the Department of Environment and Resource Management that the spill occurred at the Yarwun alumina refinery on Sunday during heavy rain.

DERM spokesman Joe Pappalardo said an unknown amount of the acid was released into Boat Creek when the site’s stormwater system overflowed in heavy rain.

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Urgent inspections and water sampling has been done at Boat Creek and nearby Port Curtis, at Gladstone.

“Inspections by DERM officers … have found no evidence of environmental harm suggesting that the recent rain and high tides in Boat Creek have helped to dilute the acid and flush it through the system relatively quickly,” Mr Pappalardo said.

“Investigations are continuing, however at this stage DERM has found no evidence that environmental harm has been caused by the spill.”

Investigators are looking at the cause of the spill, how much sulphuric acid was involved and the actions taken by Rio Tinto.

Mr Pappalardo said it looks as though it’s been a lucky escape for the environment.

“If it’s confirmed that a large amount of sulphuric acid has been released without significant environmental harm, then DERM would consider that very fortunate indeed.”

“The risk is unacceptable.”

A Rio Tinto spokesman said it is estimated that 3000 litres sulphuric acid was released when a drain valve failed.

“The vast majority of the sulphuric acid was contained within the on-site spill capture system,” the spokesman said.

“Heavy rain on Sunday resulted in a small amount of the sulphuric acid and seawater mix being discharging into a local creek.”

The drain valve has been removed from service and will remain out of operation until repaired and investigations are completed.

AAP- Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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