26/03/2009 - 12:32

First lead shipment to leave Esperance

26/03/2009 - 12:32

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The export of lead from the seaside town of Esperance has been plagued with controversy in recent times, however the first shipment of lead carbonate will soon be heading to southern China after being stranded at the port for the past two years.


The export of lead from the seaside town of Esperance has been plagued with controversy in recent times, however the first shipment of lead carbonate will soon be heading to southern China after being stranded at the port for the past two years.

The export of lead carbonate concentrate was suspended in March 2007 following a disastrous lead contamination and poisoning scandal that enveloped the town.

Since then the 9,000 tonne stockpile, which is owned by Magellan Metals, has been sealed in a storage shed which prompted Magellan to place its Wiluna mine on care and maintenance.

In December, it was announced that the Premier had signed off on the necessary environmental conditions that applied to the port authority allowing for the safe removal of the lead.

At that stage, it was expected the stranded lead would start being removed in January 2009 with all lead gone by the end of March.

Considering there is less than a week before the end of March this now seems highly unlikely.

Transport Minister Simon O'Brien indicated today it had been originally planned that all the lead would leave in the one shipment in April or May, but space had become available aboard a ship exporting containers of nickel from BHP Billiton's Ravensthorpe mine.

Mr O'Brien said 640 tonnes of lead carbonate sealed inside two tonne bags had been tightly packed and locked inside 26 shipping containers ready to be loaded onto a ship for export.

A spokesperson for the Esperance Port Authority confirmed the containers are yet to start loading onto the appropriate vessels bound for China.

The remaining amount of approximately 8,000 tonnes of lead carbonate, comprising about 325 shipping containers, would leave Esperance on another ship in late April or early May.

"I am sure the removal of this first shipment of lead will be welcome news to the Esperance community," Mr O'Brien said.

"This painstaking bagging process is being carried out in a negative pressure environment - a world-class technique to prevent dust escaping to ensure the protection of the community and environment.

"The bagging, sealing and vacuuming of the exterior of the bags, plus the process of packing the containers and storing them to wait for shipment is being overseen by a full-time auditor and is subject to regular inspections by Government agencies."

He said the Esperance Port Authority had advised there had now been more than 1,800 bags filled with the equivalent of about 3,500 tonnes of lead.

Eyre MLA Dr Graham Jacobs welcomed the departure of part of the lead stockpile indicating that over the next two years Esperance will get a purpose-built bulk handling facility for metal concentrates to world's best standards.

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