1970’s – 2010’s: Wedgefield (WA). Hazardous Waste Incinerator

Oil Energy Corporation Pty Ltd (ToxFree) Hazardous Waste Incinerator

Location:       20 Schillaman St. Wedgefield, Western Australia

Status:           Inferred POP’s hotspot.

POP’s type:   Dioxin and furans

The Oil Energy Corporation incinerator is situated 6.5km south-west of Port Hedland, a mining town in the north west of Western Australia. It is located within the Wedgefield Special Control Area- a mixed industrial residential area that houses nearly 200 caretaker properties. The incinerator is directly adjacent (200-300m) to a 600 person workforce accommodation village.

The incinerator has a history of controversy with the local community who have lodged numerous complaints about odours, emissions, ash fallout and unusual coloured smoke. There have also been large uncontrolled fires at the site over recent years where waste oil and other chemicals have burst into flames.

Some workers in the accommodation village a few hundred metres from the site have complained of health effects after breathing fumes and emissions that blow from the incinerator but no official investigation has occurred.

The incinerator is very basic consisting of a small inclined rotary kiln and stack. A large range of wastes are incinerated including:

  • waste oil, grease
  • hydrocarbon materials
  • sulfinol and ethylene glycol
  • pesticide wastes
  • halogenated wastes
  • photographic wastes
  • industrial washwaters
  • contaminated soils and drilling mud from oil and gas fields.

From 2001 to 2003 trials were conducted for incinerating perchlorethylene wastes, pesticides and halogenated wastes but the application to continue the practice was withdrawn before agreement could be reached with regulators. The incinerator can operate at temperatures of up to 1000oC. The gas scrubbing equipment is limited to a wet venturi scrubber and wet cyclone.

The Department of Environment and Conservation have concluded that odorous VOC emissions from the site and particulate matter are ‘high risk ‘. Acid gases are considered medium risk. No mention is made anywhere in licensing documents about dioxin control or levels in either emissions or ash.

The nature of the wastes burned and the temperatures at which they are burned indicate that dioxins and furans will be created – potentially at high levels.

Community complaints include:

  • emissions of ash, yellow and dark smoke
  • uncovered ash loads blowing into the environment as they leave the site.
  • Strong oil burning and sulfurous odours
  • Demands for health investigations for those living nearby.

Incinerator ash is currently recycled back through the incinerator to bulk up liquid wastes. This practice results in concentrations of PCDD/DF becoming very high as the ash continues to adsorb these compounds time after time. There has been some evidence of ash disposal/spills on-site. When the ash becomes too contaminated to feed back through the incinerator it is taken off site to an ‘approved’ landfill.

Most rural landfills in Western Australia are unlined allowing for contamination of groundwater to occur. Ash is not tested for dioxin. Therefore ash which would inevitably contain concentrated levels of dioxins and heavy metals are being disposed of to landfill somewhere near Port Hedland.

Action Required:

  • Immediate closure of the incinerator.
  • Assessment of on-site soil and groundwater for POP’s contamination.
  • Health investigations of nearby residents to assess impacts of emissions.
  • Off-site testing for dioxin contamination.
  • Assessment of dioxin levels in ash.
  • Investigation of fate of ash generated to date.

Source: National Toxics Network – Australian POPs Hotspots A briefing paper on facilities and sites with confirmed or inferred POP’s pollution. Author: Lee Bell March 2009.