"Move Coode NOW!"
Last Saturday, August 21, was the eighth anniversary of the disastrous fires on Coode Island, in the high-density population area of Melbourne's inner west. Coode Island remains a storage depot for highly flammable and toxic material. On August 21, 1991, fires began in the Coode Island chemical storage depot which lasted for two days. On the first day the Westgate Bridge, Footscray Market and Dynon Road were closed as a black cloud drifted over Melbourne. Local power was also shut down. People were evacuated to nearby Western Oval. Residents were advised to stay inside and keep windows and doors closed. By 4pm the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) was advising that a toxic cloud was heading towards the eastern suburbs of Hawthorn and Kew. Swanston and Appleton Docks were evacuated. By 5pm office workers in the city were being advised to stay inside and turn off air conditioners as the cloud drifted towards Frankston, over 30 kilometres away. The Kennett Government has paid no heed to the lessons from those fires eight years ago and in fact is creating a recipe for another disaster. The Government has allowed developments which are increasing the population in the inner city. In addition, a multi-sports and entertainment complex, Colonial Stadium, is being built downwind from Coode Island. Community organisation HAZMAG (Hazardous Materials Action Group) has carried out a long campaign for the facility to be relocated. "Kennett has cut firefighting services and is now talking about privatising the MFB", said Colleen Hartland from HAZMAG. "Staffing levels throughout the MFB have fallen by 329 since 1991. There are 272 less fire service personnel to respond to an accident." In 1992 the Coode Island Review Panel decided that the facility should be shifted to West Point Wilson. Before that decision it was estimated that it would cost $139 million to upgrade Coode Island and an additional $30 million to purchase 240 houses in Footscray and Yarraville to meet buffer distance requirements. An estimated $189 million was proposed for the preferred relocation site at West Point Wilson, and $140 million at Point Lillias. Terminals, the Coode Island company, has so far spent a miserly $18 million on improving the facility. Coode Island is only 500 metres from the closest high population area compared to 10 kilometres at West Point Wilson and three kilometres at Point Lillias. At the West Point Wilson facility the Coode Island Review panel recommended: * remote impounding basins to collect and contain spills; * sufficient spacing between tanks to minimise incident escalation or knock-on effects; * appropriate separation between different grouped tanks of chemical products; * provision of immediate road access around every area for fire fighting, spill recovery and other emergencies (the Government is actually having Footscray Road, the nearest major access road to Coode Island, narrowed); * tank layouts no more than two deep from an access road so that firefighters can direct foam or water at any tank; * a one-way ring road around the site; * automatic systems in place to detect leaks and operate fire fighting equipment on all tanks and in ship-to-shore transfer of chemicals. The stored chemicals Benzene (15,377 cubic metres): Highly flammable toxic liquid; can cause menstrual disorders, cancers of the white blood cells, can pass through the placenta and effect the foetus. Coode Island spills — 300 litres 1993; 2,500 litres 1995. Acrylonitrile or Vinyl Cyanide (999 cubic metres): highly flammable, explosive, toxic, vapour cloud hazard, potential fireball. Exposure to high concentrations may cause a bluish discolouration of the skin, shallow breathing, collapse, convulsions, possible death. Found to increase incidences of cancers of the intestines, lungs and prostate. It was the Acrylonitrile tank which caught fire in 1991. Propylene Oxide (8,538 cubic metres): highly flammable, toxic, vapour cloud, fireballs and blast pressure extending beyond 800 metres. Toluene Disocyanate (955 cubic metres): the same family of chemicals as Methyl Isocyanate which was released at Bhopal, India, killing thousands of people; potential human carcinogen, chemical bronchitis, severe asthma- like wheezing and possible fatal lung damage. "Kennett is gambling with people's lives", said Ms Hartland. "More people than ever before will be closer to Coode Island with fewer emergency services to protect them. "Coode Island is not safe. Move Coode now!"