ALCOA says the State Government’s decision to approve recommissioning of the liquor burner at Alcoa’s Kwinana Alumina Refinery will help secure the future of the refinery and 1,000 jobs.
The approval follows a 12-month environmental assessment of the project that looked at the adequacy of emissions estimates and air quality modelling, cumulative air emissions, potential health impacts and worker health issues.
In her letter to the four community group appellants against the liquor burner, Environment Minister Judy Edwards wrote that: “The EPA [Environmental Protection Authority] has advised that it is satisfied that the work presented by Alcoa has been carried out to an acceptable standard to provide sufficient confidence that the recommencement of the operation of the liquor burner will not pose an unacceptable risk to public health.”
Under the Government approval, Alcoa will be required to prepare an emissions characterisation plan for the refinery as a whole in order to identify the types and quantities of all potentially significant emissions.
Alcoa had voluntarily shut-off the plant’s burner in 2002 after a number of multi-million dollar compensation claims were made against the company by workers relating to adverse health effects.
Refinery manager Simon Butterworth said in a statement that the decision to shut down the burner, which improves plant efficiency, was made despite independent analysis of air quality indicating that workplace emissions from the facility were at least 100 times better than standards required for occupational health.
“That decision has had a significant impact on the refinery because we were no longer able to burn off impurities in the liquor processing stream, which has progressively reduced alumina production levels,” Mr Butterworth says.
“The important thing now is that the new $30 million emission control technology to be installed will ensure those already low liquor burner emissions are cut by a further 90 to 98 per cent.”
According to an Alcoa spokesperson, the company has spent $75 million on its Western Australian operations over the past two years in order to comply with environmental standards.
As part of its attempts to satisfy community concerns, Alcoa has also bought more than 27 residential houses in the Wagerup area, however the company spokesperson said this was not unusual in an industrial area.
The clearance is welcome news for the company ahead of the environmental approval process of its Wagerup refinery expansion, which is in its early stages. That expansion would ultimately lift production from the current capacity of about 2.6 million tonnes a year to about 4.7 million tonnes and is expected to increase exports by about $550 million a year and create 150 permanent jobs.
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