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Australian firm to ship toxic waste to France

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Australian firm to ship toxic waste to France
Greenpeace workers fill drums with toxic waste dumped from the chemical giant Orica in 1998. Orica is sending a ship load of toxic waste to France. Photo: WIlliam West/AFP
08:34 CEST+02:00
Australian chemicals firm Orica said on Tuesday it has applied to ship a vast stockpile of toxic waste to France in a bid to end a long-running saga over how to dispose of it.

The company has 15,000 tonnes of hexachlorobenzene (HCB) - a solvent manufacturing by-product and suspected human carcinogen - stored at Botany in Sydney's south and has been trying to get rid of it for years.

Australia has no disposal facilities and a previous plan to ship some of the waste, produced between 1963 and 1991, to Denmark fell through in 2010 when the Danish government reneged on the deal after protests by Greenpeace.

There were similar protests in 2007 when Orica attempted to export it to Germany.

Orica said it had lodged an initial application with the government to export 132 tonnes of HCB to a facility in France operated by Tredi SA. If successful, the rest of the stockpile would progressively follow.

"If Orica's application is successful, the company believes it will have identified the means to resolve an enduring industrial and environmental legacy," said global head of corporate affairs and social responsibility Gavin Jackman.

"This process can ensure that this legacy is not left for future generations to address."

Australia is a signatory to both the Basel and Stockholm Conventions which deal with international protocols for the handling of toxic waste, and Orica said its application complied with both of them.

"There is no viable alternative destruction method available in Australia nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future," Jackman added.

"The only other alternative is continued long term storage at Botany Industrial Park which is not acceptable to the community."

Greenpeace said it was opposed to countries exporting hazardous waste due to shipping risks, and was against  incineration, which is what would happen in France.

Greenpeace's Australia and Pacific head of research and investigations Adam Walters said burning the waste raised concerns about harmful air pollution.

"That method of destruction will create dioxins. It shouldn't be disposed of through high-temperature destruction," he told AFP.

"There are other chemical methods of destroying toxic waste that don't involve burning."

He added that the size of the stockpile commerically warranted Orica building a facility to dispose of it safely in Australia, "but they just want to send it overseas".

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