August 20 2007


by Surfrider Foundation International Program

MP's mill trip reveals woes
Article from: The Sunday Tasmanian

August 19, 2007 12:00am

A SPIKE in nausea, vomiting and headaches in children and a downturn in sales at local vineyards were among the impacts of a Chilean pulp mill, Murchison MLC Ruth Forrest said yesterday.
Ms Forrest recently returned from a 10-day tour of pulp mill operations in South America and Scandinavia funded by the State Government.

Meetings with mill operators were facilitated by Tasmanian timber company Gunns Limited, the proponent of the proposed $1.7-billion pulp mill development in the Tamar Valley.

The delegation of five independent MLCs and two Liberal MHAs delivered a largely glowing report of their visit to three modern mills in Chile, Brazil and Finland.

But when Ms Forrest left the official tour for just 24 hours, she discovered a very different picture.

The Australian Surfrider Foundation used its global contacts to arrange her visit to towns around the Nueva Aldea mill in Chile, commissioned in 2005.

The other delegates were invited but did not attend because of time constraints. On the official tour, the mill's operators boasted the mill had created 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.

But residents of the extremely poor surrounding regions told Ms Forrest very few locals made up that number.

By contrast, she was told the local wine industry, which was started by Jesuit monks in the 1500s and employed 6000 people, had suffered since the mill was built.

"I spoke to two vineyard operators who were within hundreds of metres of the fence and they both reported significant odour problems during the commissioning phase," Ms Forrest said.

"They produced wine for the domestic market and relied heavily on cellar-door sales and said there had been a drop off when the wind was blowing steam from the mill across the highway."

One operator had abandoned plans to add a cafe and wine-tasting centre to his business since the mill had been built.

Local doctors said many children presented with nausea and headaches on days of high odour.

However, they said it was too early to determine whether emissions had contributed to an increase in chronic disease and respiratory problems.

During the commissioning phase, concluded only in October last year, a school had to be closed for a day and Catholic mass at a local church cancelled because of the unbearable stench.

Odour incidences had decreased, but not disappeared since October, community representatives said.

The local fishing industry was also concerned about plans for the mill to discharge effluent 2km off a popular surf beach.

Ms Forrest acknowledged the odour-abatement technology of the Gunns pulp mill was more advanced, but said her experiences highlighted the need for tough permits and guidelines to govern emissions during the start-up phase.

She said it was disappointing her colleagues did not join the side-trip. "I just hope they are willing to believe what I tell them," she said.