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Coastal industries

Types and locations

Like inland industries, coastal industries are frequently a source of heavy metal pollution, both globally and in Australia. On an international scale, heavy metals (also sourced from coastal mining) were 'identified as the major pollution threat facing mankind [sic]' during the late 1970s, because of a series of international disasters that involved mercury and cadmium (Batley 1995, Zann 1995). In the Australian context, a large number of submissions to a coastal zone inquiry in the early 1990s expressed concern about a broad range of pollution discharges into the marine environment, including discharges from industrial activities (RAC 1993 a). Coastal industry examples of potential sources include iron and steel works, oil refineries, alumina refineries, cement works, chemical plants, meat and fish processing plants, power stations, lead smelters, pulp and paper mills, supporting port facilities, and other manufacturing plants (Hails 1982, Commonwealth of Australia 1991, Batley 1995).

Discharges from these industries vary, but can contain cadmium, lead, mercury, copper, zinc, chromium, nickel, cyanide, phenolics, ammonia, nutrients and food byproducts, polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs (or organochlorines also used for chlorine paper and pulp mill bleaching), thermal pollution, and petroleum hydrocarbons, among others (Reilly 1991, RAC 1993, Zann 1995, Burzacott 1996, CSIRO 1996, Young 1996). Zann (1995) provided a useful summary of heavy metals in some estuaries in Australia, many of which can accumulate in coastal sediments over the long term (Batley 1995).

Most industrial pollution usually occurs locally or regionally, and around cities; areas that are distant from human populations usually remain relatively uncontaminated (RAC 1993, Batley 1995, Zann 1995, Young 1996). Unlike mining operations, there appears to be no broad map illustrating the locations of different coastal industries across Australia, so it also difficult to gain an appreciation of the overall trends of industrial activities and the impacts on the coastal environment. However, according to the RAC (1993a), the coastal zone contains most of Australia's manufacturing industries, and there is a useful summary of different coastal industries in Brookes (1996), and in AGC Woodward Clyde (1993) for Queensland, Western Australian, and Victoria.

It has been found in parts of some jurisdictions (e.g. New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland), that contaminants from industries do not exceed ANZECC water quality guidelines (Batley 1995). But some of the 'hot spots' of heavy coastal industrial pollution are Cockbum

Table 3.16 Example of coastal industries and their effects



Coastal impact examples

Series of

industries: cement, Boyne smelters, Alumina

Gladstone, Qld (deep-water port)

• loss of coastal frontage land by industries not necessarily requiring a coastal location

• inadequate buffers

• inappropriate siting of some industries in relationship to townships

• toxic air emissions

• poor water quality & impacts on fisheries

Lead and zinc smelter

Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• largest smelter in the world

• exceeds ANZECC water quality guidelines

• aerial and liquid discharge to marine environment.

• a four-year study of marine pollution showed sediments over a 6000 km2 area contaminated by cadmium and lead, biota with high level of cadmium, lead, zinc, but not above health standards, although near limits; lesser areas of copper, arsenic and manganese

• effect of contamination-growth deformities in fish and health effects from fish consumption.

BHAS smelter

Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• trace metals discharges with effects on the epibenthic seagrass fauna (decrease in species richness and reduced abundances of frequent species)

• bioaccummulation of metals in several species causing deformity.




Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• possible contaminant effects on surrounding intertidal mudflats, sand cover, mangroves and seagrasses around the project


Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• discharge contains suspended solids, metals, cyanides, ammonia compounds, and phenols, in addition to discharges from tailings dam with dissolved iron entering into marine environment

• loss of seagrass and mangroves

• erosion

• nutrient enrichment.

Playford power station

Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• thermal effluent from power station-no impact on intertidal communities but some minor reductions in seagrasses in growth characteristics

• entry of coal dust into marine environment in windy conditions.

Pt Stanvac

Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• largest oil spill in Australia in 1992 (300 000 litres)

• impacted on mangrove-seagrass communities in Gulf, with death and defoliation of mangroves

Pt Stanvac

Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• effect on fauna but no hydrocarbons in sediments or in fish/crab specimens

• other studies inconclusive

Rare Earth Treatment Plant

Upper Spencer Gulf, SA

• derelict tailings and residue dams constructed in intertidal zone

• dams left uncovered, leaching into adjacent marine environment during high tidal surges

Torrens Island power station

Port Adelaide River, SA (Gulf St Vincent)

• thermal effluent pollution and changes to the benthic faunal communities in intertidal zone near thermal discharge areas

• loss of plankton in withdrawal of cooling water

• juvenile salmonids open to heavier predation in thermally affected areas

• owner's license for power station altered to allow breach of ANZECC criteria and South Australian water quality guidelines. A study found that after temperature outfalls increased, 'there was decreased species diversity, increased dominance of a 'tropical' polychaete worm and increased area affected by the thermal effluent' (Jones et al 1996, p796)

• changes in mangrove distribution and growth

• station uses PCBs-estuary has high levels of PCBs (also from other effluent)-enters food chain with toxic effects (e.g. fertility reduction, immunosuppression, hormone disruption, carcinogenicity)

• still a lack of data of full effects.

Penrice Soda Products (includes salt production and refining)

Port Adelaide River, SA (Gulf St Vincent)

• dust, noise, and discharge to Port Adelaide River

• $3 million budgeted to improve marine discharge, but still insufficient

• daily monitoring of discharge of the Port River.

Pulp & Paper Mill

Lake Bonney, SA

• shallow coastal lagoons in south-east of SA

• pulp and paper effluent discharge into the lake in 1939

• another mill later developed, both permitted to discharge untreated wastes into drains into the Lake

• channel was made to the sea to discharge effluent into the sea

• contaminants include halogenated organic compounds, such as organochlorines – some harmless, some toxic and persistent. Lake Bonney used as a stabilisation lagoon, but resulted in scouring action and enlargement of channel – lake level fell

Pulp & Paper Mill

Lake Bonney, SA

• toxicity in amphipods

• by 1969 'Lake Bonney was a dusty brown colour, turbid and occasionally had a strong odour. Wood pulp containing large quantities of plastic material and other solid wastes discarded by the mills, accumulated around its north-eastern shore (Hailes 1982, p. 131)

• waste now monitored & alternative discharge methods considered (e.g. lack of chlorine bleaching and discharge of waste processing liquids in 1992, and secondary treatment to reduce toxicity in 1993)

• full effects inconclusive.

Series of industries: BHP steel rolling mill, ESSO-BHP fractionation plant, Shell/Mobil crude oil storage

Western Port, Victoria

• subject to RAMSAR treaty on international wetlands, and contains many bird species

• impacts on mangrove/saltmarsh, and seagrass beds

• concerns about potential oil spills

• risks to public safety with product transportation.

Series of industries: BP oil refinery,

Alcoa aluminium refinery, Cockburn Cement, power station, Westarmers LPG extraction

Cockburn Sound (deep-water port), WA

• effluent discharge and poor water quality

• heavy metals discharge (cadmium, lead, zinc, chromium-exceeded standards of NH&MRC)

• seagrass deaths (reduced from 4000 ha to 900 ha) and dune erosion

• algal blooms

• incompatible with other coastal uses

• air emissions and impact on coastal residents

• visual impacts

• loss of public access to coastal zone

• storage or solid industrial waste on the site near coast with possible soil and groundwater contamination.


Pt Kembla Harbour, NSW

• discharges included high levels of heavy metals, cyanide, phenolics and ammonia;

• pollutants retarded the settling of the larval stages of bryozoans so that they remained as plankton for longer and were reduced in numbers by predation.

Sources: De Guia 1982; Hails 1982; McFarlane & Sheridan 1986; Reilly 1991: Rozenbilds 1991; AGC Woodward Clyde Pty Ltd 1993; Zann 1995; Batley 1995; Connell 1995; Brookes 1996; Burza- cott 1996; Jones et al. 1996; Moran & grant in Young 1996; Lewis et al. 1998

Sound in Western Australia, where there are several industries along a coastal strip, Botany Bay in New South Wales, and the north-western coast of Tasmania (see, for example, De Guia 1982). In the Tasmanian example, coastal waters are heavily polluted by metal discharges, partially treated sewage, and discharge from a chlor-alkali plant and pulp mill, and as a result, stricter monitoring controls have been established (Batley 1995, Zann 1995). But more importantly, Tasmania has been described, particularly in relation to the Derwent River, as one of the most polluted regions in the world (Batley 1995, Zann 1995 p. 59). Interestingly, water quality levels in this area were within ANZECC drinking water guidelines, but were outside levels established for the protection of aquatic ecosystems (RAC 1993a).

South Australia also has particularly distinct coastal industry locations, primarily in the Upper Spencer Gulf (Port Pirie, Port Augusta, and Whyalla), and in the Port Adelaide River area, the former being heavily contaminated by zinc, cadmium, chromium, cyanides, iron, manganese, ammonium, and lead in intertidal sediments (Reilly 1991, Brookes 1996). There is also a useful summary of pollutants in the Port Adelaide River in the South Australian State of Environment Report for 1998 (ΈΡΑ SA1998). Coastal industries in Victoria are located primarily around the western suburbs of Melbourne and Geelong, and while Port Phillip Bay in Victoria is particularly characterised by problems of ballast water and introduced species (see page 158), industrial infrastructure does not appear to be a major concern in this area. The exception is a major sewage treatment plant and the discharge of excess nutrients (DNRE 1998). Examples of other coastal industries, their locations and coastal impacts are summarised in table 3.16, particularly in terms of South Australia.

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