A chemical storage company in Australia hit by a massive industrial fire in April 2019 faces a court hearing Wednesday on multiple charges that it endangered the environment and violated its license to operate.
The charges, filed by Environmental Protection Authority Victoria against Bradbury Industrial Services and its director, Paul Anthony Bristow, allege that the fire resulted from willful mishandling of chemicals on site.
At least one charge filed against Bristow carries a prison sentence of up to seven years.
“EPA will allege the source of the fire was toluene being decanted at the premises from a 1,000-liter intermediate bulk container (IBC) into a 60-liter drum without there being any or adequate control of ignition sources and that chemicals were stored exceeding the licensed limit,” an EPA press release states.
Bradbury’s Thorneycroft St. Campbellfield facility is located in Campbellfield, a northern suburb of Melbourne. On April 5, fire spread through the facility, producing toxic smoke that forced residents to shelter-in-place. The fire also caused pollution to enter nearby Merlynston Creek.
Nearly $1.8 million was spent by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Melbourne Water to contain the fire and clean-up the contamination, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Only two weeks prior to the fire EPA suspended Bradbury’s license to operate due to storing more waste than permitted, storage containers not adequately labelled and being handled outside an adequately diked area.
“The community has a right to expect that the management of hazardous and industrial waste is done to a high standard that meets regulations,” an EPA press release issued at the time of the action states. “This was not the case with Bradbury and is why EPA has taken this important decision.”
At the time of the suspension, it was estimated that the company had 450,000 liters of chemical waste on site, well beyond the limit of 154,000 liters authorized by its license. Bradbury was only able to reduce its stockpile to 330,000 liters before the fire erupted.
The chance that fire related costs can be recouped are slim. Three months after the fire Bradbury was declared insolvent and placed in the hands of a court appointed administrator. Bristow filed for personal bankruptcy in December.