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Ballance fined $60,000 for gas discharge

Thursday, 26 March 2015 10:00 a.m.

Fertiliser manufacturer Ballance Agri-Nutrients has been fined $60,000 for a discharge of sulphur dioxide into the air in May last year.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council prosecuted the company in Tauranga District Court for breaching the Resource Management Act. The charge arose from an incident in May last year when Port workers suffered breathing difficulties, watering eyes, sore throats and coughing from a discharge of sulphur dioxide from Ballance's plant.

On 4 May 2014 two employees at the Port noticed the smell of gas, and after experiencing ill effects when they opened a window they notified Port security. Three fire engines attended, and the gas was traced to the nearby Ballance plant on Hewletts Road. Nine Port workers were affected, one sought medical attention, and the Regional Council was notified that afternoon.

The company’s investigation showed that there had been an error by the shift engineer in not reducing the sulphur pump to the recommended level when restarting the acid plant, causing excessive sulphur dioxide to be discharged from the plant’s stack. As the cloud of sulphur dioxide cooled it fell to the ground, affecting the Port staff.

The fertiliser plant has been operating from the Mount Maunganui site since 1958, with substantial changes in the size and nature of the operations since then, as well as in the surrounding area. The plant is a major source of sulphur dioxide emissions in the area, because the chemical is produced as part of the manufacturing process for super phosphate.

There had been a similar incident at the fertiliser plant in 1999, when several people were taken to hospital with breathing difficulties following an excessive discharge of sulphur dioxide. The company (then known as BOP Fertiliser Limited) was fined $35,000.  Ballance had also been warned by the Regional Council following excessive sulphur dioxide discharges in April 2007.

Judge Jeff Smith said that the Ballance fertiliser plant was within a sensitive environment close to the Port and busy roads, and there was a risk of effects on the public from the plant, particularly people working in the open.

The offending was not wilful but was the result of a human error and Ballance's failure to have a device fitted to the plant to ensure the sulphur pump level was automatically re-set when the plant shut down. Judge Smith said it was important to deter discharges of this nature and protect community health.

Ballance was given credit for its early guilty plea. No credit was given for previous good character due to the earlier conviction for a similar discharge from the site and subsequent compliance issues.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Pollution Prevention Manager Nick Zaman said the prosecution demonstrated the importance of businesses being proactive.

“While it is pleasing to see that Ballance enhanced its safety systems following the incident, this prosecution demonstrates the importance of ensuring that environmental risks are managed proactively, particularly where an industrial activity can have a significant impact on public health.” 

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