Battery facility concerns voiced

Michelle Slater

Community opposition to a proposed battery recycling plant in Hazelwood North is gaining traction with fears of potential lead contamination affecting the nearby area.

The Hazelwood North Community Action Group has formed to raise concerns including emissions potentially being carried on prevailing winds, and impacts on neighbouring businesses and farmland.

However, the company proposing the plant says emissions would be well below EPA limits, waste would be removed from the site and it would have its own contained water supply.

The action group is circulating a petition against the proposed plant, which has so far gained more than 700 signatures, and nearly 800 clicks on

Chinese-based Chunxing Corporation wants to process 50,000 tonnes of vehicle batteries into 28,000 tonnes of refined lead in a state-of-the-art factory on a 13.3 hectare site on Fourth Road.

It would bring in material from Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory for processing instead of sending it overseas, providing 50 full-time jobs, according to the company.

The company has an operating plant in China 16 times larger than the Hazelwood North proposal.

Action group member Peter Ingwersen said there were almost a dozen residential properties within the two-kilometre buffer zone, including Hazelwood North Primary School.

“We as a society are removing lead from petrol, paint, ammunition and even fishing sinkers. It seems illogical to knowingly introduce lead into an area where people live and work and where children go to school,” Mr Ingwerson said.

“We will be the ones left to count the health loss associated with this lead smelter, this is not a case of jobs at any cost.”

The action group plans to meet with the Environment Protection Authority and Latrobe City Council and has already discussed the issue with member for Morwell Russell Northe.

Chunxing held two community sessions last month explaining the project and is close to completing a draft application for an EPA works approval.

Project environmental assessment consultant Jeff Latimer said they had used data from the Chinese factory to run air quality modelling to the size of the ptoposed Hazelwood North plant.

He said at a “worst case scenario” it would emit 0.32 per cent of allowable lead levels under EPA regulations.

“This uses intelligent chemistry, good process control and good engineering with air quality equipment,” Mr Latimer said.

“I understand the nature of people’s concerns, but the level of any risk is very low. The environmental footprint of this plant is incredibly good, it is world’s best practice.”

Mr Latimer said the plant would have its own water supply that would be contained onsite, so there would be “no discharge into water bodies offsite”.

He said the slag- or waste created from the smelting process- would contain a tenth of the amount of lead levels from smelting processes carried out elsewhere, and would be deposited in a hazardous waste dump in Lyndhurst.

A Latrobe City Council spokesman said council would not speculate on any proposed development until a formal application had been provided.

“To date a planning application of the proposal has not been provided to council but overarching planning advice has been provided,” he said.

“Latrobe City Council will encourage the company proposing the development to do further community consultation and hopes the community use these opportunities to evaluate this proposed project.”