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Myth busting - the Gunns pulp mill

By Alan Ashbarry - posted Friday, 31 August 2007

On October 26, 2004 the Tasmanian Premier, the Hon. Paul Lennon, announced that the Tasmanian Government had approved a set of emission limit guidelines for a pulp mill in Tasmania - as recommended by the Resource Planning and Development Commission (RPDC).

These guidelines had been developed during a nine-month international inquiry and required any mill to adhere to the recent Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants while applying the principles of best practice environmental management (BPEM), best available techniques (BAT) and accepted modern technology (AMT).

Since then there has been growing opposition and community alarm about the development and assessment process and this week the Tasmanian Parliament will vote to approve or reject the mill. Public comment to the Commonwealth closes this week with many claims and counter claims being made in the media.


It is an issue that has divided stakeholders including many concerned people dependent on other industries in the area: it has put the blow torch on Tasmania as did the former pulp mill proposal in the late 1980s.

But just what is fact and what is fiction? There are many myths about the pulp mill, and if they are “busted” the mill still meets the clean green standards promised by the Premier.

In 1989 the last straw for the Wesley Vale pulp mill was when “Richo” (then federal environment Minister) commissioned the CSIRO to draw up a further report and consequently investors pulled out. The issue in 1989 was not the environment; it was sovereign risk, that is to say government risk.

That’s why Paul Lennon was so keen to draw up the guidelines first: a process that sought the input of the Federal Government, regulators, experts and the public. It included a world wide search for the latest technology and environmental controls by expert consultants.

The Tasmanian guidelines require that any kraft pulp mill will be either elemental chlorine free (ECF) or totally chlorine-free (TCF). Either way, dioxin is virtually absent.

The types of organochlorines that were a focus of attention with the proposed Wesley Vale pulp mill - dioxins and furans - will not be a significant factor for the Gunns pulp mill. The guidelines imposed mean the entire mill must operate on a hierarchy comprising waste avoidance; waste recycling/reclamation; and waste re-use. Any marine discharge at the end of these processes would have to have no significant environmental effect outside the small mixing zone.


Yet, almost three years on, these issues and more are still being debated through the community and media. But many of the claims don’t stand scrutiny when fully examined outside the 30-second news grab.

On Sixty Minutes it was claimed “They're going to build it in classic Tassie wilderness country”. The transcript shows the reporter told viewers “Depending on who you listen to, the pulp mill will either be an environmental catastrophe or guarantee Tasmania's very future”.

Yet the pulp mill will be built in the Bell Bay Precinct (PDF 812KB) near Georgetown in Northern Tasmania: already the most significant industrial estate in Tasmania, with a large number of major operations within its borders including an aluminium smelter; a ferro-alloy processing plant; the major Port of Launceston; export woodchip facilities; aluminium powder plant; seafood processing facility; Bell Bay Power station; a sawmill; and Gunns woodchip mills. Until recently it was also the site of the Starwood MDF plant.

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About the Author

Alan Ashbarry is the researcher for the 15 branches of Timber Communities Australia (TCA) in Tasmania. He has a deep commitment to people in communities that depend upon the sustainable management of Australian forests and acknowledges the pride that forest scientists, professional foresters and timber workers have in providing a renewable resource and in creating jobs that have long term benefit for society, the economy and the environment.

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