The recent call for public submissions on the Tasmanian Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) Kraft pulp mill highlights the need for even more myth busting, to enable the mill to be given a “fair go” by the Commonwealth Government.
The approval of the mill is fast becoming a major election issue for John Howard’s Coalition Government and Kevin Rudd’s Labor alternative. Electors deserve to know the facts before casting their votes or forming opinions based on myths.
Nowhere is this more evident than when the Federal Minister, Malcolm Turnbull announced that he received over 30,000 submissions on the pulp mill: most would have expected well informed comment, yet according to activist web sites the majority were form emails (PDF 313KB). A total of 31,323 submissions came from just two web sites: 25,773 standard emails from the activist web site Get up; and 5,550 submitted from the Wilderness Society.
In addition to this “click and send” campaign, was a submission stating the opinion of three scientists. It was publicly released with the fanfare of a media conference and PowerPoint presentation, claiming the Minister’s approval for the mill would be “a truly awful precedent for environmental management”.
None of these submissions, the form emails or the effort of the three scientists undermines the emission guidelines put in place by the Tasmanian Government back in October 2004.
These guidelines were developed by an international inquiry and require any mill to apply the principles of best practice environmental management (BPEM), best available techniques (BAT) and accepted modern technology (AMT).
This ensures dioxin levels in treated effluent are below international Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards (ELG) to protect human health, threatened and migratory species of birds, animals and fish and to safeguard the Commonwealth marine waters.
The Tasmanian guidelines provide for dioxin levels less than the limits set by the US EPA and by Canada. (Sweden does not have national standards and limits are set on a mill by mill basis.)
The limit is expressed as 10pg/L, this is a concentration of 10 parts per quadrillion as a litre is notionally a kilogram or 1,000 grams.
The mill’s expert European designers have estimated that the mill’s effluent will contain 3.4pg dioxin equivalents per litre. This is below the method detection limit of European and US analytical methods. It is the equivalent of measuring the concentration of salt after one salt grain has been put in the volume of 24 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Yet both the activist web sites generating the standard emails, and the report by the scientists, concentrate on dioxins and their impact on Commonwealth marine waters. And the Wilderness society tells activists “there are no safe levels of dioxins”.
In contrast the Commonwealth Department of Environment states that dioxins are in fact present in our every day environment and do not pose a health risk at background levels. The Australian health standard “Tolerable Monthly Intake” is 70pg TEQ/kg body weight.
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