VITAL WORK: Department of Environment and Heritage Protection compliance officers Natalie Wheeler and Alana Coates.
VITAL WORK: Department of Environment and Heritage Protection compliance officers Natalie Wheeler and Alana Coates. Mike Richards GLA260917SPIL

QAL face potential fines, penalties after caustic spill

QUEENSLAND Alumina Limited could be hit with a number of penalties after a caustic spill in Gladstone Harbour.

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection executive director Justin Cagney said any fine depended on the impact of the spill on the environment.

The caustic, which is used to process bauxite to alumina, spilled into the harbour about midnight on Sunday.

Mr Cagney said the fine would depend on a range of factors.

"Typically in terms of the maximum penalties, they're significantly higher when there is environmental harm identified," he said.

"This is what we're out here monitoring to try and find."

Mr Cagney said officers responded to the spill at first light on Monday.

"They undertook some sampling and monitoring around the harbour in an effort to try and establish where that material may have gone and whether it's caused any impacts," he said.

The monitoring, which included visual assessments and water monitoring, continued yesterday.

"The water-quality samples that we collect will need to be sent to a laboratory for analysis and that typical turnaround is a couple of weeks," Mr Cagney said.

The environmental officers are also using pH tests in the water, which provide an immediate answer given that caustic is a basic solution.

"At this time, about 24hours into monitoring, we haven't identified any impacts within the harbour, which is good news," MrCagney said.

"But we will continue to monitor over the next couple of days until such time as we're satisfied that the material has been neutralised and dissipated."

Mr Cagney said the spill occurred when the caustic was being moved into a storage tank on QAL's terminal.

A QAL representative said the discharge was identified as part of unloading monitoring processes.

"Caustic is pumped from vessels into storage tanks through large pipes. It is believed a portion of this flow has bypassed into the seawater flushing lines and into the ocean," they said.

The representative said the system was immediately shut off when the discharge was found.

"Extensive monitoring of the harbour and downstream areas has been taken ... and has not shown any signs of environment damage, including changes to pH levels and impact to fish and ocean species," they said.