Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

Fish kill costs BlueScope Steel

Media release: 11 January 2017

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued BlueScope Steel with a fine of $15,000 after water containing cyanide, well above the level permitted, was discharged into a drain at the Port Kembla Steelworks, in breach of the company’s environment protection licence.

The incident occurred in September 2016 when a water valve was left on, causing water and coke oven gas condensate, which contains cyanide, to overflow into an internal drain at the premises. The internal drain (Slab Mill Drain) ultimately flows to Port Kembla Inner Harbour.

EPA Officers attended the incident and observed approximately 10 to 15 small dead and distressed fish in the drain.  No impacts to fish in Port Kembla Harbour were reported.

The EPA licence permits a discharge of up to 0.1 mg/l of cyanide to the drain but testing undertaken by the EPA at the time of the discharge found cyanide levels of up to 0.3 mg/l in the drain.

EPA Manager Regional Operations Illawarra Peter Bloem said the incident occurred because operating procedures weren’t followed and errors in judgement were made.

“Impacts to the local environment could have been prevented. The overflow triggered alarms, but these were believed to be false and were ignored.

“As well as issuing the penalty notice, the EPA has also issued an Official Caution to BlueScope Steel and added a Pollution Reduction Program to their environment protection licence to further safeguard the environment.”

The Official Caution was issued for failing to operate the plant and equipment in a proper and efficient manner as required by the licence. 

The Pollution Reduction Program requires the company to investigate risk reduction measures that could be introduced to prevent future incidents and to report back to the EPA by 30 April 2017.

BlueScope Steel responded to the incident promptly and took steps to reduce the environmental impacts. They also carried out water quality sampling and analysis.

The company has also implemented additional controls and updated their standard operating procedures to prevent a recurrence of this type of incident.

Coke ovens gas is produced during the conversion of coal into coke which is used extensively around the steelworks for fuel. Coke oven gas condensate can collect on the inside of gas mains and requires strict management to avoid water pollution.

Penalty notices, official cautions and pollution reduction programs are a range of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions. For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/prosguid.htm.

Contact: Katie Ritchie

Page last updated: 11 January 2017