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Stop the Export of Australian HCB Waste to Europe for Incineration!

Orica Australia is proposing to export 22,000 tonnes of highly toxic hexachlorobenzene (HCB) waste to Germany. The waste is supposed to be incinerated in Leverkusen, Dormagen, Herten and Brunsbuettel. Two of the incinerators are run by the Chemical company Bayer.

Help us stop this unnecessary export and ensure that the stockpile is destroyed by non incineration methods. We are asking the Australian Minister for the Environment to accept the principle that Australia takes responsibility for the environmentally-sound destruction of its own HCB waste, as it has done for all previously generated POPs waste.

Daily Telegraph (Australia), February 1st, 2007

Chemical Polluter in New Row

The chemical company infamous for contaminating Sydney's groundwater with toxic discharge is facing a storm of fury over plans to ship 22,000 tonnes of its poisonous waste to Germany.
Orica has lodged an application with the federal government to export a massive shipment of hexachlorobenzene (HCB) to Europe for destruction by incineration, claiming it could not dispose of the waste itself.
But now German regional environment minister in the densely-populated North Rhine-Westphalia region, Eckhard Uhlenberg, is irate. He says his country does not want the waste, but is powerless to stop it because of binding international agreements.
``To say it clearly: We are against the importation of (toxic) waste from Australia, particularly since transportation of this sort of dangerous waste over huge distances involves considerable risk,'' he said in parliament.
A rally is planned for next week in Herten, home to one of the incinerators, to oppose the plan. The German press is awash with articles expressing grave concerns about the move.
New Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he's awaiting an assessment from his department before making a decision.
But a NSW government review of Orica's HCB waste options in 2004 specifically recommended against exporting it, concluding ``a persuasive case for export could not be sustained''.
Orica estimates that four separate shipments of the 22,000 tonne stockpile currently stored at its Botany industrial park will be needed between April this year and December 2008.
HCB belongs to the ``dirty dozen'' of dangerous chemicals forbidden worldwide under the Stockholm Convention.
According to Australia's National Toxics Network (NTN), excessive exposure to HCB can cause kidney and liver damage, harm to the central nervous system leading to seizures, collapse of the circulatory system, and respiratory problems. Its use has been banned in Germany since 1981.
NTN spokeswoman Mariann Lloyd-Smith, who is calling on the federal government to reject Orica's application, said the company had the means to deal with its waste here. One plant in Brisbane and another in Melbourne were capable of treating it, Dr Lloyd-Smith said. ``Australia has both moral and legal obligations to deal with its own waste,'' she said.
Labor's federal environment spokesman Peter Garrett, whose electorate takes in Orica's Botany plant, admitted exportation conflicted with Australia's international obligations.
But he still wants it taken out of his suburbs. ``The health concerns of the people of Botany and surrounding suburbs must take precedence,'' he said.
Under Australia's hazardous waste regime, toxic refuse must be destroyed as close to the source as possible to avoid dangerous transportation of poisonous materials. But companies can apply for an exemption if they prove they cannot dispose of it themselves. By SAFFRON HOWDEN

If you agree that Australia should be responsible for its own waste and not export this stockpile to Europe for incineration, please email to the Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell. senator.ian.campbell@aph.gov.au

Media Release, National Toxics Network Inc. (http://www.oztoxics.org/ntn )

Diplomatic Row Grows as Germans Unite Against Aussie Toxic Waste Export

'All Eyes Now On Minister Turnbull'

A diplomatic row is breaking out between Germany and Australia over a proposed export of highly toxic waste from Botany NSW by chemical company Orica Pty Ltd to be burnt in Germany.

The German regional Environment Minister in the densely-populated North Rhine-Westphalia region, Eckhard Uhlenberg has called for the export to be stopped but the Australian Environment Minister, The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP who controls the final decision on the export remains silent.

“While most Australians enjoyed the festive season break, Orica (formerly ICI Australia) set about gaining Commonwelth Government approval to export up to 22,000 tonnes of highly-toxic HCB (hexachlorobenzene) waste to be incinerated in Germany” said Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith, Senior Advisor to the National Toxics Network.

Newly-appointed Federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull can halt the export but has issued no statement at this point. In the meantime, German media is reporting widespread community resistance to the proposal, which has ignited a Parliamentary debate and calls from the German Government for Australia to stop the toxic waste shipments.

German environmental organisations were alerted late last year when Orica sought approval to send a convoy of container ships loaded with HCB waste to four incinerators in the German cities of Leverkusen, Dormagen, Herten and Brunsbuttel.

“Orica decided to take this action, even though they have publicly stated that “where there is opposition we will not go” (Environmental Manager, No 547, 11 July 2006).” said Dr Lloyd-Smith. Hundreds of German, Australian and International organizations have now joined the chorus of objections against the plan, including a church group in Herten demanding a moratorium on the export.

The National Toxics Network has taken a lead role in developing and submitting a detailed objection document providing a long list of reasons why the export should be refused by the Australian Environment Minister.

German organisations have been voicing their objections directly to the previous Environment Minister Mr Campbell, whose successor, Mr Turnbull, is now responsible for the ultimate decision on the export.

Under Australia’s international legal obligations the HCB waste can only be exported to another OECD country under the exceptional circumstance where there is no technology available in Australia to treat and destroy the waste. NTN understands that at least two technologies are available in Australia that can successfully destroy the waste and that successful destruction trials have already been conducted using samples of HCB waste provided by Orica.

The Orica Botany HCB waste stockpile has been the subject of decades of controversy as local communities and NGOs have fought for the toxic material to be safely destroyed. The waste has been stored at the contaminated industrial site in over 60,000 barrels since the chemical processes that created it were decommissioned in the 1970s and 1980s.

“NTN calls on Environment Minister Turnbull to reject the export immediately and to do the right thing and have the waste destroyed in Australia”, Dr Lloyd-Smith said.

Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith: (02) 6681 5340 / 0413 621 557
Mr Lee Bell, National Toxics Network Inc., 0417 196 604

Risks of exporting the HCB waste

A number of significant risks are associated with the application to export 22,000 tonnes of HCB waste to Germany for incineration. The risks are associated with both the transport and treatment of the waste.
Orica estimate that four shipments will be required depending on the ability of the incinerators to burn the waste and the rate at which the repackaging plant will operate in Botany. The transport of the waste will take around 21 months.

Transport risks
§ Contaminated spills, dust release and fugitive emissions during the excavation and packaging of the waste and repackaging of stockpiled waste for transit;
§ Transport accidents when transporting hundreds of drums of HCB waste to the departure port in Australia;
§ Spills, accident or loss of entire containers at sea with potentially long-term irreversible pollution damage to marine ecosystems due to the long persistence and toxicity of HCB in the environment. Worst case scenario being the loss of a HCB loaded vessel in heavy seas;
§ Spills and or other incidents at transit port (potentially South Africa) with potentially long-term irreversible damage to inshore aquatic ecosystems;
§ Spills and or other incidents at destination port at the mouth of the river Elbe in Northern Germany with potentially long-term irreversible damage to inshore aquatic ecosystems and river biota;
§ Transport accident in Germany during the transfer of the HCB waste to the SAVA
incinerator in Brunsbuttel, the Bayer incinerators and landfill in Dormagen and
Leverkusen or the RZR Herten incinerator in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Significantly
higher risks apply to the transport of HCB waste to the RZR Herten facility which will be over 200km by public roads;

Incinerator Treatment risks
Incineration of HCB’s does not ensure their full destruction and almost certainly leads to the generation of many harmful compounds that can escape into the atmosphere.
Incineration is considered by researchers as a poor method by which to attempt to destroy HCB waste.
The Stockholm Convention lists incineration of hazardous waste as a priority source of releases of dioxins and furans. Dioxins and furans are among the most toxic of all compounds ever studied and will be released to atmosphere as a part of the incineration of Orica’s HCB waste in Germany.
Compared to non-combustion technologies, incinerators have poor Destruction
Efficiencies (DE). The primary reason is that while incinerators have become better at removing pollutants from the stack gases by various scrubbers, the pollutants still have not been destroyed, rather they are transferred to another media such as fly ash, filter cake, scrubber liquors or bottom ash.
Dioxins will remain in the unwanted ash by-products and have the potential to pollute the German, European and global environment. Large quantities of contaminated 'bottom ash' will be produced which is currently disposed of under European roads and in concrete products while the highly toxic 'flyash' is sent for permanent storage to German salt mines.

DER SPIEGEL, February 21, 2007
GERMANY'S BOOMING INCINERATION INDUSTRY

Burning the World's Waste

A booming new industry has quietly emerged in Germany. Waste incineration firms are importing massive amounts of toxic waste. Now public opposition is mounting against the burning of highly contaminated waste from Australia.

The trip was planned as meticulously as if a government leader were arriving. The most reliable container ships have been selected for the journey, the crews receive special training and the captains have been ordered to avoid busy sea routes -- for safety reasons.

The mission is to ship a dangerous cargo half way around the globe: Four freighters will bring 22,000 tons of hazardous waste from Australia to Germany's northern Schleswig-Holstein region. The toxic containers can only be stored below deck to prevent any of them falling overboard in a storm.

Once the contaminated cargo has arrived in Germany, it will be taken to special incineration plants by train and in trucks -- to Brunsbüttel, Herten, Dormagen and Leverkusen. There, the carcinogenic hexachlorobenzenes from Australian chemical company Orica's solvent production will be "rendered harmless" by 2008, according to the incinerator operators.

The trip from one end of the world to the other reveals an economic sector that has expanded in Germany largely unnoticed until now: Germany has become one of the major importers of hazardous waste from all over the planet, a giant waste disposal facility for the rest of the world. Munitions waste from Sweden, pesticides from Columbia, asbestos-contaminated rubble from the United States, solvents from China and lead-acid batteries from Montenegro.

Nothing that harms human beings, animals and the environment seems to be missing on the list, which is meticulously kept by the German Environmental Ministry. And the amounts have tripled since 2000 to reach more than 2 million tons. Import volumes of asbestos-contaminated waste has risen by 400 percent in this period -- that of industrial sludge by as much as 500 percent.

Sell us your waste
The reason behind this economic growth consists in Germany's unusually strict environmental regulations. They've ensured that the world's best hazardous waste incineration plants were built in Germany, which also has the greatest know-how. But the high-tech incinerators only make economic sense if they are used at or near full capacity. Germany's plant operators would face overcapacities of as much as 20 percent if they didn't process hazardous waste from abroad.

And since Germans are so eager to clean up other people's mess, other countries have been able to secretly shirk their own responsibility. The Basel Convention signed 18 years ago saw 170 countries make a commitment to disposing of their waste in their own countries to the extent possible. The convention was originally intended as a bulwark against waste exports to Third World countries.

But the Dutch don't have to send their waste as far as that. They've closed down two hazardous waste incinerator facilities in Rotterdam, since grateful takers are waiting just across the border, in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia region. They get €900 ($1,182) per tonne. "You've got such good facilities," says Paul Braams from Rotterdam's waste combustion service. "Why should we spend good money to bring our own incinerators up to date?"

Organizations such as the Association for the Protection of the Environment and Nature (BUND), the German branch of Friends of the Earth, warn against the incalculable risks of hazardous waste incineration and accuse the country's waste managers of profiteering at the expense of the environment. But Joachim Beyer doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. The graduate engineer is head of the hazardous waste incineration department at Bayer Industry Services. He's responsible for several special incinerators in Leverkusen and Dormagen. "We have nothing to hide," the plant director says during a tour of his Leverkusen kingdom, where waste is incinerated at temperatures between 1,000 and 1,200 degrees Centigrade (1,832 - 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit).

'Harmless' leftovers
In the language of chemistry, what that means is that extraordinarily toxic organic combinations are broken apart. Only scoria remain, solidified in water baths. "You could use them for road construction," Beyer says, demonstrating their harmlessness by reaching into a pile of dark lumps that look like shredded glass. "The worst danger you face is cutting your hand," he says. The Bayer corporation deposits the scoriae on the plant's own dumpsite.

But something else remains after the incineration process: gaseous components of the hazardous waste that have the tricky characteristic of recombining in the form of toxic furan polymers and dioxins when cooled down to about 300 degrees Centigrade (572 degrees Fahrenheit). "Cracking them for good" is the job of various combustion chambers, rotation washers, condensation filters and a catalytic converter more than 30 meters (98 feet) large, Beyer explains.

The toxicity of what leaves the chimney at an altitude of about 100 meters (328 feet) lies far below the limit values, Beyer says. That toxicity is only measurable in picograms at best -- and one picogram is just a millionth of a millionth of a gram.

But scientists insist there is no such thing as hazardous waste combustion without harmful emissions. Harry Rosin, a professor of medical microbiology, even thinks the statements issued by the industry are "stultifying nonsense."

Even the best facilities release carcinogenic particles into the air, he says, adding that sooner or later, the dirt comes back to the ground, where the molecules are then eaten by grazing cows, thereby returning into the food chain. When that has happened, even tiny amounts of toxins are enough to harm human health, Rosin says.

Experts like Rosin are also convinced that those living close to the incinerators will pay the price for the controversial business development trend of the past years. Residents have been convinced "that the facilities are indispensable for the region," says Günter Dehoust from the Ecological Institute in Darmstadt. But now they're finding out "that waste from all over the world is being purchased because of overcapacity."

Citizens against waste
In Brunsbüttel, citizens are resisting the transformation of the region into a "global trans-shipment center for hazardous waste," as the spokeswoman of the local environmental association says. The four ships carrying their 22,000 ton cargo from Australia are to be unloaded in Brunsbüttel. The plan is for about half the waste to end up in the local incinerator. The other half will be loaded onto cargo trains and trucks and transported across the country along a 400 kilometer (248 mile) route.

It remains controversial whether the local facility in the Westphalian town of Herten is even suited for disposing of the chemical cocktail from Australia. "The chlorine combinations might not be completely eliminated in Herten, due to the low incineration temperature of only 900 degrees Centigrade (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit)," says Claudia Baitinger, the waste expert at BUND. Johannes Remmel, the secretary of the Green Party faction in the Düsseldorf parliament, thinks another question needs to be raised as well: that of "whether it's the job of local waste disposers to acquire hazardous waste from all over the world."

"Only weakly contaminated waste, such as barrels and other packages" is burnt in Herten, according to Orica spokesperson John Fetter. He adds that "Herten has developed a special method in which 900 degrees Centigrade (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit) are sufficient."

And so the German Environmental Minister and the local government in Düsseldorf have no objections to the waste deals -- on the contrary. "With its very good facilities for incinerating hazardous waste, Germany is assuming a part of the general environmental responsibility," says Environmental Minister Sigmar Gabriel from the Social Democrat Party (SPD). Gabriel argues that disposing of the waste in Germany is still safer than letting it be improperly deposited elsewhere or dumped into the sea. But in future, the Social Democrat would like to see the waste exporters build their own incinerators -- ideally with technology made in Germany.

China -- not noted for its environmental concerns until now -- seems to want to realize Gabriel's vision. Two up-to-date hazardous waste incinerating facilities will now be built in Beijing and in an industrial park in the northwest of the country -- using German know-how. By Udo Ludwig and Barbara Schmid