The Department of Environment and Conservation has made the belated admission that high levels of poisonous emissions from Midland Brick could have damaged one of the State’s most valuable tourist industries, the Swan Valley vineyards.
The concession came after the department launched an investigation into whether Midland Brick had breached its licence conditions by failing to report the results from all three of its ambient monitors, which measure ground-level concentrations of hydrogen fluoride around its Swan Valley brickworks.
The West Australian has confirmed that Midland Brick had not reported the results from two of those ambient monitors to the department since November 2004 and that the third ambient monitor had consistently produced readings well in excess of accepted environmental guidelines.
The apparent pollution monitoring breaches came to light after Environment Minister Mark McGowan moved last week to amend Midland Brick’s licence to fix an error made by his predecessor Judy Edwards, which had allowed the brickworks to increase its hydrogen fluoride kiln stack emissions to five times the proper limits for the past two years.
Midland Brick, which has the right to appeal against Mr McGowan’s directive, had increased its maximum emissions to almost three times the original limit.
That error had gone undetected by the department since May 2004, as did Midland Brick’s failure to report readings from all three ambient monitors and the excessive readings produced from the third ambient monitor.
Acting environmental management director Philip Hine said yesterday that while he did not believe the increased pollution levels from Midland Brick would cause human health problems, they could have posed risks for neighbouring vineyards.
“It is possible that adjacent vineyards could have been at some risk, but not people,” Mr Hine said.
The Swan Valley is home to some of Perth’s better-known wineries, including international brands Sandalford and Houghton.
Mr Hine said Midland Brick had conducted vegetation surveys in the Swan Valley for about a decade until 2002. However, he later conceded no surveys had been done after that date.
The former director of pollution control with the Department of Environmental Protection, Andrew Baker, said yesterday he had no doubt that the excessive levels of ambient hydrogen fluoride reported by Midland Brick since November 2004 posed clear risks for viticulture in the Swan Valley.
“On the basis of the monitoring data provided (to the department) by Midland Brick, with 15 exceedences of the general land use criteria and 35 above the specialised land use criteria since 2004, there is obviously a risk to viticulture and vegetation in the area,” Mr Baker said.
Mr Baker has been engaged by BGC to do an independent environmental review of Swan Valley brickworks.
Midland Brick general manager operations Greg Smith said last night the company still had not received any formal advice regarding any proposed amendments to its licence and did not believe it had breached its licence conditions.
“When we receive any proposed amendment, we will assess it with respect to its impact on our licence as a whole,” Mr Smith said.