January 14, 2021: Residents at Hazelwood North, an industrial park near a farming community in Victoria, Australia, have reacted with shock over the state government’s decision earlier in January to overturn a refusal by local Latrobe City Council for a Chinese secondary lead smelter to be built on their doorstep.
Under its plans, the Chunxing smelter will recycle 50,000 tonnes of used lead acid batteries a year, to produce 28,000 tonnes of refined lead.
The decision to allow the smelter to be built has been made ahead of a tribunal already scheduled for April that was due look at the matter again.
Planning minister Richard Wynne’s intervention means the tribunal will not now be held.
Residents have formed a protest group at Hazelwood North, with a Facebook page showing the protest they have held.
The approval has been given despite a report from Mark Stevenson, a lead smelting expert, who was contracted by the EPA to provide his assessment.
In the report he outlines concerns about stock storage, pollution controls, treatment of spent acid, slag production and the proposed furnaces.
Chunxing sought to allay fears about the project on its website, promising that lead emissions from the new site in a worst-case scenario would be 300 times lower than EPA standards.
The company came under fire in 2008 in Chinese newspaper reports, which said its facility in Pizhou, Jiangsu Province, had poisoned 41 children in the village of Xinsanhe.
Then named the Chunxing Alloy Group, the company expanded near the village, generating large amounts of dust, according to Justice Atlas, an environmental NGO.
After months of protests about contaminated groundwater, villagers eventually succeeded in getting treatment for their children and forcing the plant to be relocated.
On September 17, Latrobe City Council refused to grant planning permission at Hazelwood North – and in light of the decision being overturned by the state of Victoria the area expects further protests will be planned.