2020/22: Court penalty over Torquay pesticide incident. Chemical: Metham Sodium

Court penalty over Torquay pesticide incident

April 12 2022


Torquay commercial flower grower I, C & J Santospirito Pty Ltd has been fined $70,000 without conviction over a 2020 pesticide incident that left nearby residents suffering vision impairment, sore throats, breathing difficulties, headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) laid two pollution charges against the company after the incident on 17 June 2020, which involved a chemical called Metham Sodium being used on agricultural land at 200 Coombes Road, Torquay.

EPA investigators working with Surf Coast Shire Council and other agencies found the chemical was being used to prepare ground for a new crop, but had been incorrectly applied and reacted with moist soil to produce methyl isothiocyanate (MITC), which is a hazardous gas.

Wind drift took the gas into the nearby Ocean Acres and Frog Hollow residential estates, three people were taken to hospital by ambulance and a fourth transported himself to hospital.

Volunteer crews of the Torquay CFA Brigade and a CFA HAZMAT unit from Lara responded to the incident, and the council received 53 reports of a chemical gas odour from residents over two days.

Metham Sodium is listed as a Schedule 6 poison, with a dangerous goods classification DG 8, corrosive. The official Metham Sodium safety datasheet says MITC is volatile and causes severe skin burns and eye damage.

The company pleaded guilty to two EPA charges under the Environment Protection Act 1970:

• Polluting the atmosphere so that the condition of the atmosphere is so changed as to make or be reasonably expected to make the atmosphere, noxious or poisonous or offensive to the senses of human beings, and

• Polluting the atmosphere so that the condition of the atmosphere is so changed as to make or be reasonably expected to make the atmosphere, harmful or potentially harmful to the health, welfare, safety or property of human beings.

Magistrate Simon Guthrie said the penalty took into account the company’s early plea of guilty, its cooperation with the investigation at all times, its prior good record, and what appeared to be genuine remorse and attention to the impact on the community.

The court also ordered the company to pay EPA’s legal costs of $7,582.40 and publicise the offending in local newspapers.

EPA lays charges over Torquay chemical incident

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has laid a total of three charges against Torquay company I, C & J Santospirito Pty Ltd. (Santospirito) under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

The charges follow a multi-agency investigation, which included assistance from Surfcoast Shire Council, into an alleged chemical incident at 200 Coombes Rd, Torquay.

EPA alleges that Santospirito improperly used a fumigant resulting in the production of methyl isothiocyanate (MITC). MITC affects the eyes and respiratory tract. Several nearby residents reported breathing difficulties as well as stinging and watering eyes.

As the matter is now before the courts EPA will be making no further comment.