LAST week's devastating explosion in Beirut is another reminder of the potentially catastrophic impact of large stockpiles of ammonium nitrate.
The stockpile that appears to have been responsible for the Beirut blast is reported to have been approximately 2750 tonnes.
Newcastle hosts much larger stockpiles (more than 20,000 tonnes - believed to be the largest in the world) on Kooragang Island, alarmingly close to urban residential areas, despite constant community calls for them to be moved to areas remote from residents. The blast from such a stockpile would be equivalent to a nuclear bomb, affecting most of Newcastle's urban area as far away as the Charlestown ridgeline.
These stockpiles are maintained for use as explosives in the mining industry and agricultural fertiliser.
Those who know generally acknowledge that the chance of something similar happening in Newcastle is very small.
But in the light of the devastation in Beirut and other areas of the world where ammonium nitrate accidents have occurred (all with much smaller amounts than are stored in Newcastle), you have to ask whether the advantages of taking this admittedly small risk is worth it when balanced against the magnitude of the catastrophe that an explosion here could cause.
It's well past time for the NSW government to acknowledge that such stockpiles don't belong anywhere near residential areas, and to begin the process of relocating them.
John Sutton, Tighes Hill
Outcome would be catastrophic
The horrific Beirut explosion caused by store ammonium nitrate is a timely reminder we have the same potential for a similar explosion right here in Newcastle. The Orica factory on Kooragang Island produces ammonium nitrate with the amount stored on site more than involved in the explosion in Beirut.
Having such a dangerous and toxic industry producing explosives so close to Newcastle CBD and suburbs is not acceptable to many in the community. Orica has had a history of accidents including the toxic emissions of chromium VI in 2011 and any accident causing ammonium nitrate stored on site to explode would be devastating for Newcastle as seen from the damage in Beirut. The Newcastle CBD would suffer major damage with many people killed and injured in suburbs surrounding the port and across Newcastle.
While Orica stores their ammonium nitrate in a responsible manner it only takes an accident involving fire or organic material to let off a huge and destructive explosion. This is not the type of industry that should be located in the middle of Newcastle. While the likelihood of an explosion is low the outcome would be catastrophic, putting the Orica plant in the high risk category.
MORE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
There have been many explosions of ammonium nitrate over the years including the 2001 Toulouse explosion which killed over 30 people and injured 14,000 people, 2500 severely. I know personally people at Toulouse University in France who were injured by flying glass in that explosion of only 200 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
It is time the Government ensured the Orica explosives plant was relocated in an area well away from other industries and communities and eliminate ongoing pollution and the real possibility of a dangerous explosion. Orica urgently needs to reduce the amount of ammonium nitrate stored at their Kooragang Island facility and plan for a new plant well away from communities.
Keith Craig, Stockton
Curious cases of COVID-19
I HAVE some puzzles regarding the COVID-19 pandemic: The disease circulates and infects most effectively where human crowds gather. This is reflected in places such as cruise ships, nursing homes, supermarkets, sporting events and schools.
The most effective defence appears to be social distancing. An infected person may have no symptoms while infecting other people surrounding him or her. It may or may not take up to two weeks for an infection to be evident. The virus attacks any age range from babies to the very elderly.
My understanding is that the virus is a sticky sphere which seems to have similar properties to velcro or farmer's friend (bidens pilosa). If the virus has such a sticky characteristic, wouldn't one's eyes be the riskiest exposure? Having adhered to one's forehead or other exposed skin, can the virus penetrate skin?
One infected person can quickly infect a large crowd of people apparently by merely passing amongst them. People on cruise ships are in close proximity to each other and share the same air conditioning. Nursing homes are usually a business, often owned by a corporation that may own several homes.
Nursing homes may for reasons of economy circulate their staff such as doctors, nurses, cleaners, maintenance people etc. So if one staff person is infected, they could seed many homes, therefore causing the infection to be circulated through many elderly residents' homes.
Government health records show that the virus is affecting mainly 20 to 30 year olds.
George Paris, Rathmines
Conservation comes at a cost
RE: Threatened species habitat lost in Newcastle and Maitland, (Herald 5/8), the Hunter is fortunate to enjoy a unique and complex range of biodiversity which underpins our enviable lifestyle. We are also fortunate to have a growing and diversifying economy that supports great jobs. As the region continues to grow, we must ensure there is a supply of housing that is affordable and connected to local communities and employment. It is critically important to balance these needs.
The article ("Threatened species habitat lost") failed to recognise the significant conservation outcomes that the development industry has delivered during that same period. However, under the current system, these conservation outcomes have to date added significant cost to the price of a new home in the region.
The NSW Department of Planning is currently leading a program of strategic conservation ("biocertification") in the Hunter. Done well, the strategic conservation process has the potential to assist in improving housing supply and affordability while achieving our shared conservation goals. The Urban Development Institute of Australia supports this approach and we have urged the NSW Government to complete the program as a priority to ensure there is a clear plan for the protection of our biodiversity values while enabling new jobs and affordable homes to be delivered.
Geoffrey Rock, UDIA NSW Hunter Chapter Chair
2750 TONNES of potassium nitrate stored in a port warehouse exploded registering 3.3 on the Richter earthquake scale and demolishing Beirut ('Could it happen here', Newcastle Herald 6/8). It was protected by government regulations and inspections. Incitec won't tell us how many tons of the same chemical it stores in its Newcastle Harbour warehouse, but assures us we are safe. It is protected by government regulations and inspections. Whew.
Brian Roberts, Bolton Point
CARL Stevenson (Letters, 30/7) has noticed fewer letters complaining about religion, apparently an unsatisfactory situation for him, given his recycling of old arguments about the tax status of religious organisations. He says revenue collected not going to welfare and general running expenses should be taxable. Considering that religious organisations are, by and large, not-for-profit entities, I'm not sure what revenue he means. He also says religious groups should be more into welfare than spreading their beliefs. Other tax exempt entities such as trade unions and environmental groups spread their beliefs. Why pick on only religious organisations?
Peter Dolan, Lambton
THE saving of the Port Jackson Fig tree in Gregson Park after a huge branch snapped off is a fantastic outcome, not only for the tree but the community at large. Under a master plan developed for the park and its iconic fig trees by council and arborists this beautiful tree has been given an extension of its life for another 20 years. I applaud council for their decision and foresight in developing this plan. My children and their friends many years ago used to climb this same tree so it has held a special place in my heart.
Garry Matthews, Hamilton
THE NSW Government closed Myuna Bay Sports and Recreation complex because of a potential ash dam collapse. Why doesn't it close Orica because of a potential catastrophic explosion? Orica doesn't exactly have a clean safety record. Remember when they had to clean Stockton?
Bill Slicer, Tighes Hill
HOW about LMCC plant lots of koala friendly gums on Munibung Hill and other tracts of trees so they could be given homes here as other areas are cleared? Or the laws could be changed to allow having native animals as pets. No animals that are pets have ever gone extinct.
Betsy Watson, Swansea
IT makes me sick of the constant one rule for one and another for the powers above. If it was anyone but Wayne Bennett or Craig Bellamy breaching the COVID rules they would have been well and truly thrown under the bus. As if the dinosaur didn't know he was breaching the rules! V'landys has done an amazing job, but there can be no exemptions to the rules. Furious is an understatement!
Dave Fothergill, The Junction
NSW had the Ruby Princess, Victoria had the hotel isolation, Newcastle has the Jets allowing teams to go to Sydney.