Cause of Blayney factory chemical spill a mystery

ONE person remains in Bathurst hospital after inhaling toxic fumes from a chemical spill at a waste management facility in Blayney, but the cause of the spill remains unknown.

Environmental Treatment Solutions (ETS) director Jock Germany could not be reached for comment about Thursday’s 25-metre chemical spill, which forced the evacuation of St Joseph’s Catholic School and hospitalised eight workers and a police officer when they were overcome by fumes.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and WorkCover are investigating the incident.

EPA south director Gary Whytcross said the investigation would take several months.

“The EPA will inspect the ETS premises, require a report from the company on the incident, interview ETS staff and where required issue a statutory notice to the company to provide specific information,” he said.

“Initial investigations suggest that the gas emission is thought to have been hydrogen sulphide.”

Hydrogen sulphide, commonly known as rotten egg gas, is highly toxic and explosive.

A WorkCover spokesman said the fumes were created by a chemical reaction during the neutralisation of hazardous substances at the centre.

The business is barred from using the process while investigations are underway, but can continue other operations.

Mr Whytcross said the EPA would closely monitor the business’s performance and may restrict its operations if problems are identified.

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Blayney Shire Council mayor Scott Ferguson said the council would wait until the investigations were finalised before deciding if further action was needed.

“The main thing is that no one was seriously injured,” he said.

“They’re a good employer of local people. Hopefully it was just an accident.”

Cr Ferguson said historically the school, nearby residents and the industrial estate around the ETS site had coexisted well and incidents had been managed.

But he said the emergency highlighted the need for a second route over the rail line, with the Adelaide Street crossing currently the only access.

“We’ve got the emergency bypass, but it’s only a dirt track,” he said.

“If you combined that [chemical spill] with an issue at the railway line, all of a sudden the police can’t get through.”

A Western Local Health District spokeswoman said one patient remained in Bathurst hospital in a stable condition.

The other eight patients in Bathurst and Orange have been released.

ETS must provide a report to the NSW planning department and Blayney Shire Council within 24 hours of any incident or potential incident with actual or potential significant off-site impact on people or the biophysical environment, according to its development consent issued in 2010.

clare.colley@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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