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Mmmm, get a load of that Finnish – more pulp fiction insights from Dr Warwick Raverty

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The following is a communication from Dr Warwick Raverty on April 19, just after the Tasmanian Govt announced the appointment of SWECO (which is apparently an imaginative shortening of ‘Swedish Company’) as independent consultant for assessment of the Tamar pulp mill proposal. Simon Bevilacqua has just run an interview with Dr. Raverty about pulp mill emissions, and a more lengthy recounting of the RPDC experience in Europe may be of interest to TT readers.

As you’re all aware by now, Dr Raverty is very appreciative of those CSIRO colleagues who continue to support his right to speak freely as an individual, and he is speaking entirely on his own behalf and not in his capacity as a CSIRO employee. Will be getting more articles to you all soon from informational places further along the current track (promise) but hope you find this useful for now. The words that follow hereafter are entirely Dr. Raverty’s:

A further matter that is of deep personal concern to me is the Finnish record on
odour-free pulp mills – I am not aware of any Finnish success to date that would satisfy the majority of residents of the Tamar. During the RPDC Panel’s tour of low-odour mills in Germany and Sweden, we were taken to a mill near Karlstad, called Skoghall Mill, operated by the world’s largest pulp and paper company, Stora Enso.

Stora Enso was formed by merger of Stora AB of Sweden and Enso Oy of Finland a few years ago. Their mill near Karlstad was shown to the Panel as a ‘shining example’ of how the latest odour control technology could be retro-fitted to even older bleached
kraft pulp mills to make them ‘odour-free’ according to Finnish standards.

As I got out of the minibus and stood in the car park of Skoghall Mill I was almost over come by the odour – an intense combination of rotten eggs and rotten seaweed. My eyes were literally watering and when I turned to Julian Green I could see that he was in a state of physical distress.

‘Get me back into the bus quickly,’ Julian gasped.

The other Panel members and our Swedish guide physically helped Julian back into the bus and we all followed him.

For God’s sake get me out of here’, Julian spluttered and we drove out of the carpark as quickly as we could and away from the Mill. Fortunately, Julian recovered his normal breathing patterns in about 10 minutes after we had driven about 5 km from Skoghall and we were able to continue our tour without seeking medical aid. All of the Panel members were affected by the odour from Skoghall, but none of us as severely as Julian. I myself
developed a severe migraine only minutes after leaving the carpark.

The Panel was then driven to a small village about 6 km from Skoghall Mill, where
we alighted and smelled the air. The odour, even at that distance from the mill on a fine day with light winds was highly objectionable and offensive.
Julian said, ‘Well if Jaakko Poyry can’t do better than this there will be no
pulp mill built in Tasmania while I am head of the RPDC.’

The most significant thing about that very salutory experience was that the Swedish
engineer who acted as our guide and who had designed the retro-fit for Skoghall
initially thought that we were all joking and merely trying to embarrass him
because of his pride in the job that he had done at Skoghall. We were
certainly not joking and Julain Green’s near collapse and my migraine were
certainly no laughing matter.

I have not published this information before, because until yesterday I trusted DPAC to make a fair decision on the independent consultant. I have now completely lost faith in the Tasmanian State Government and in DPAC.

The explanation for the difference in perception of the strength of TRS odour, as it is called, between a Swedish engineer and four Australians is well known. The TRS gases gradually kill some of the olefactory cells in the noses of some people over a period of 10 years or more. Some people who work in pulp mills for decades, like our Swedish guide, lose the ability to smell rotten odours. Many Swedes and Finns have lost this ability because they
experience it every day of their lives.

Very few people in the Tamar Valley have lost the ability, so I can predict with some confidence that if the mill goes ahead at Bell Bay as planned, there will be tens of
thousands of angry people from Launceston to Beauty Point. Odour will be almost a
non-issue if the Federal Government comes to the party with financial subsidies
and Gunns decide to see common sense and move the location to Hampshire. The
really scary thing for me is that the EPBC Act says nothing about odour and,
as far as I can see as a non-legal person, the Federal Minister has no power
to regulate the odours that are discharged into the Tamar airshed, so Mr
Turnbull probably can’t veto the mill on those grounds.

In my view it is a ludicrous situation. The week after the panel left Sweden our Swedish
engineer guide left do work on a mill in Finland, probably to retrofit another ‘odour fix”.

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Written by typingisnotactivism

April 30, 2007 at 11:09 am

7 Responses

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  1. As one commenter in the mercury put it “You couldn’t make this stuff up”
    Stuff up indeed

    thinista

    April 30, 2007 at 3:12 pm

  2. The 100 year future (the life of a modern pulp mill) of everyone in Northern Tasmania is now in the hands of a pulp mill supplier, Sweco Pic, with an obvious conflict of interest, who has no information about the population, the industries or the sensitivities of the region and who cannot be held accountable in any way for their recommendation while the residents and the businesses in the area will have no legal recourse because the law has been changed to preclude effective legal challenges against the project. They will also be required to subsidise the mill operation in many different ways.

    Mike Bolan

    April 30, 2007 at 4:33 pm

  3. And no doubt Guvnns were aware of this incident, and decided that a pulp mill judgement by Dr Green (and the RPDC) could not be in their interest, and consequently sought to remove Dr’s Green and Raverty from the RPDC and/or have the assessment process altered.

    weeell, maybe some doubt. the key actions which contributed to the removals in late ’06 occurred in early
    ’05. but it’s hard not to be sceptical. it’s also hard, given the abandonment of due process, not to see ‘conspiracy’ written all over everything to do with the pulp mill. doesn’t mean it’s everywhere – like that saying about how when a government’s involved and it’s a choice between a conspiracy and a stuff-up, back the stuff-up – but at the same time it doesn’t mean such expectations are automatically wrong. just means it’s one direction motivated people might want to look before drawing conclusions either way – ed.

    Lilly

    April 30, 2007 at 5:54 pm

  4. Dr Green……..’For God’s sake get me out of here’
    You might hear that another 80,000 times in the Tamar valley.

    Dr Raverty………..’The TRS gases gradually kill some of the olefactory cells in the noses of some people over a period of 10 years or more.’

    Gunns ……….’The DIIS includes a figure for maximum continuous emissions from the main stack of
    100 kg/day for TRS’

    Lilly

    April 30, 2007 at 7:36 pm

  5. I gave exactly the same text to the Mercury – I wonder why it was so heavily edited by Simon’s editors? As to conspiracy theories, in my view the editor is absolutely correct. Gunns could have no knowledge of this incident and indeed it was the combined stupidity of Paul Lennon and the Pulp Mill Task Force in March 2005 (12 months before this incident) that put Julian and I in the position where we had to resign on the advice of Bill Bale. I have to add that the panel had visited Stendal Mill in Germany a few days before in March 2006 and I thought that the Germans had possibly solved the problem of odour after we had left Stendal – (note that they had not solved the problem of masses of water vapour potentially drifting across the East Tamar Highway and causing traffic accidents). The fact that odour was one of the few items omitted from Zellstoff Stendal’s annual environmental report published later in 2006 then raised doubts in my mind. When a German correspondent then confirmed to me last month (March 2007) that Stendal had developed odour problems over the last 12 months, I realised that the Swedish kraft mill expert that I met with in Stockholm was right to raise his eyebrows when I said that Stendal did not smell (it did have an ‘aroma’ a bit like a chlorinated public swimming pool). The Swedish expert was adamant ‘there is no such thing as an odour-free kraft mill, never promise such a thing’, he said to me. Why a new ‘odourless’ mill develops odour problems after 12-18 months (as has also happened at Alde Neuvo in Chile) probably has to do with the ‘plastic’ sealing compound that is used to join some of the many pipes and pumps in the mill that carry the used pulping chemicals for recycling. Because TRS (which is normally a ‘foul’ gas) dissolves in the ‘soaps’ that are produced from the fats and oils in the wood and produces a liquid mixture that, from my direct experience, has about the same penetrating property as WD40, this intensely foul smelling liquid slowly, over many months, moves through the plastic compound seals (of which there are thousands in each mill) and then leaks into the air. If this is in fact the case, (it is merely my hypothesis to explain the observed facts at the present) then then thousands of tiny emission points close to ground level will progressively develop over the 12-18 month period and be for all practical purposes ‘uncontrollable’. Undoubtedly this low level fugitive odour will be far less offensive than the Panel experienced at Skoghall. The question that absolutely no one can answer at the moment is the level of problem that It will create in the Tamar Valley. Because the mill cannot be moved once it is built, in my opinion, given that Gunns have never run a kraft pulp mill before, is that it is much too risky to allow the mill to be built in the Tamar Valley, the situation at Hampshire with odour will be quite different, because of the much simpler and more reliable air flow patterns that will disperse the odour. It should be noted that all of the TRS compounds are ‘natural’. Rotting vegetation and rotting seaweed emit millions of tonnes of these materials into the earths atmosphere every day as part of the earth’ natural ‘sulfur cycle’. As will all chemicals, the ‘poison is in the dose’, so these chemicals are all harmless and undetectable at sub-part per billion levels, a bloody nuisance at part per billion levels and a health hazard at higher (part per million) levels. What will the maximum ground level concentration be on a still winter’s morning at Beauty Point? I cannot tell you unfortunately and I doubt that anyone can with certainty. So it should go at Hampshire if it goes anywhere at all – simple as that in my view.

    Dr Warwick Raverty

    May 1, 2007 at 1:40 am

  6. “The TRS gases gradually kill some of the olefactory cells in the noses of some people over a period of 10 years or more.”

    Well if the life of the mill is 100 years, that leaves a good 90 years where no-one will be able to smell the mill……Makes you wonder what everyone’s complaining about…..9 out of 10 aint bad……

    Brad Skidmore

    May 1, 2007 at 7:59 pm

  7. Sorry Brad,
    Notice I used the word some twice? You will probably be one of the unfortunate folk who will go on smelling it for the full three score and ten!
    Sorry ’bout that! Sorry I also got Neuva Aldea arse about too – it was a long night last night and Gunns will probably want to sue me over that little mistake as well!
    Mea culpa!

    Dr Warwick Raverty

    May 2, 2007 at 12:49 am


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