GPC-funded study on toxic chemical kept from authorities
A GLADSTONE Ports Corporation-funded study on the impacts of a toxic chemical in Gladstone Harbour was not given to environmental authorities even after concerns a massive dredging project may have led to a fish disease outbreak in 2011.
The 2009 study, co-funded by the port and Central Queensland University, confirmed rising effects of chemical contamination in molluscs in key areas of the harbour which were later earmarked for dredging.
An APN investigation has revealed a string of glaring omissions that may have undermined state government findings on fish disease problems in the harbour and the Commonwealth's approval of the Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project in 2010.
The omissions meant the chemical was ignored in toxicology tests on marine samples by the state government and prevented Commonwealth regulators from having the latest information before approving the dredging project.
Described as "one of the most toxic substances ever deliberately leached into the marine environment" the chemical, tributyltin (TBT), was used in anti-fouling paints on ships but was banned worldwide in 2008.
It remains unclear what, if any, role the chemical actually played in the fish disease outbreak, as the omissions prevented authorities from taking the latest data into account.
Rather than reporting the study in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, the statement instead relied on previous studies, which were by then out of date.
But GPC denied responsibility for passing the information on, saying the study was "not commissioned by GPC" and the port authority "was not authorized to release or distribute the findings of the study".
A ports spokeswoman also said the EIS for the project used only "primary research" commissioned by GPC,
despite the impact statement quoting other research in the harbour, while the 2009 study was omitted.
She also said the research studied "areas outside the dredging footprint", despite rises of TBT-caused imposex aligning with some key areas of the dredging footprint.
The study aimed to update the port on an expected fall in the effects of TBT in the harbour following the ban and, in most areas, it confirmed the expected falls.
But it also found significant rises of the effects of TBT contamination on molluscs in key areas of "high shipping intensity", including near the RG Tanna Coal Terminal, an area later earmarked for dredging.
APN Newsdesk understands the study was given to the port in March 2009, more than a year before the dredging project was approved. It was never released to the public.
The Federal Environment Department would not answer questions for this report, referring all questions to be pursued under the Freedom of Information Act.
A state government spokesman has previously said the scientific advisory panel investigating the fish disease problems did not suggest the scope of analyses "should be expanded to include contaminants such as TBT".
The ports spokeswoman said GPC remained firm that all information "collected by GPC" regarding the dredging project was "made available to all government departments and the relevant authorities".