Australian firm to ship toxic waste to France

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.

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

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".

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Macron arrives on rare French presidential visit to Australia

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Australia on Tuesday, with the two sides expected to agree on greater cooperation in the Pacific to counter a rising China.

Macron arrives on rare French presidential visit to Australia
French President Emmanuel Macron leaves his presidential Airbus A330-200: Photo: Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP
Fresh from meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington, Macron touched down for the first foray Down Under by a French leader since François Hollande came to Brisbane for a G20 summit four years ago.
His advisers said he wanted to discuss a “common response” to security and climate tensions in the South Pacific, which includes the French territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
Macron told reporters he intends to “anchor” the Franco-Australian relationship “strategically, economically, but also scientifically, culturally and linguistically”.
He described ties between the two countries as historic, recalling how Australian soldiers helped defend France in World War I and II. 
France envisages a “strengthened strategic relationship” through a new axis grouping Paris, New Delhi and Canberra, he told reporters.    
French ambassador Christophe Penot said earlier that Paris sees Canberra as a “pivot” for broader involvement in the Indo-Pacific.
“What the president will tell your prime minister is that we are ready and willing to do much more with Australia in the South Pacific,” he told the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.
“We must support the South Pacific islands in their development and give them options when they want to develop infrastructure. That doesn't mean we want to oppose China on that. It is just that we want to be complementary and make sure they have all the options on the table.”
Australia has become increasingly alarmed at China's push into the Pacific, which could potentially upset the delicate strategic balance in the region.  A senior Australian minister recently called Chinese infrastructure projects in the Pacific “white elephants” while reports last month, that were denied, said Beijing wanted to establish a permanent military base in Vanuatu. Australia's Lowy Institute estimates China provided US$1.78 billion in aid, including concessional loans, to Pacific nations between 2006-16.   
Macron will also be keen to talk defence and trade, building on a mega Aus$50 billion (US$37 billion, 31 billion euros) deal agreed in late 2016 for France to supply Australia's new fleet of next-generation submarines.
The May 1-3 trip comes hot on the heels of his pomp-filled visit to Washington and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's journey to Normandy for World War I Anzac Day commemorations last month.
It will have a strong cultural flavour with France's 40-year-old leader discussing food Wednesday at a lunch with Australian and French chefs. As often on his foreign trips, Macron will also meet local artists, 
specifically Aboriginal artists whose work deals with the climate change — a subject on which Macron, custodian of the 2015 Paris Agreement, has taken a leadership role.
Following the Australia visit, the French leader will continue on to the French territory of New Caledonia, where a crucial independence referendum is due in November.