The Guardian August 25, 1999


"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!"

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