Birdon's positive end result

CONTAMINATED sediment spilt into the Hastings River could be transformed into recyclable material instead of adding to landfill.

Port Macquarie shipping company Birdon has removed chemicals including “toxic” substance tributylin [TBT] from the river, stockpiling the substance into sealed bundles where it is drying out on site.

Laboratory tests on a small amount of the sediment treated with chemicals to detoxify the material have proved positive.

If further tests confirm the material can be reused meeting Environmental Protection Authority [EPA] requirements, it would be a first at least in the state and possibly worldwide. 

General manager Ian Ramsay hoped the process would be successful. 

“This is an exciting venture in that we’re potentially turning a negative situation into a positive,” Mr Ramsay said.

Some of the material has been sent to landfill in Queensland.

EPA North Branch director Gary Davey said the organisation supported Birdon’s endeavour, permitting a trial of the process.

Mr Davey was certain it was a first in the state.

“If the trial is successful, it will allow implementation in other sites statewide,” he said.

“This will reduce waste placed in landfills and also the amount of trucks emitting pollution while carting materials such as this on our roads.”

There are at least four other sites in northern NSW that are working to remove TBT from surrounding waterways.

TBT was banned nationwide in 2003 and ships were sandblasted to remove the substance embedded in paint on hulls.

Mr Davey described TBT as “so toxic” it would kill off marine life like barnacles. 

After the ban, the material was typically stored on sites, but some had escaped into estuaries. EPA tests revealed environmentally damaging levels of the chemical in waterways, such as those recorded in the Hastings River.

This prompted the government agency to issue clean-up orders to companies including Birdon in 2010. 

The company applied for extensions on the December 21, 2011 deadline to ensure the process was thorough.

Birdon has removed mangroves growing in contaminated sediment, and regeneration experts said enough seedlings were left to rejuvenate the area.

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