Geoff Howard, Des Hudson, Powercor electricity networks general manager Steven Neave and Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio at the battery’s launch last month. PICTURE: Kate HealyThe new Powercor battery at Buninyonghas left neighbours frightened and raised questions about its safety in its first week of testing after shooting out a massive plume of fire retardant.
The automatic fire response on Friday last week sent the powder 30 metres into the air according to witnesses.
One neighbour said they had been told not to eat fruit and vegetables from their gardens or drink tank water because Powercor did not know whether the substance was harmful.
“They couldn’t tell us what it was,” said Val Brown.
Mrs Brown said they cancelled a kids’ birthday party because Powercor could not reassure them of their garden’s safety.
A Powercor spokeswoman said the powder should not have been released into the air.
“We were commissioning the grid-scale battery’s fire suppression system on Friday 15 April at approximately 2.15pm when a safety guard within the system inadvertently triggered and 2 canisters of suppressant (in a gas form) were released,” she said in a statement.
“The gas dispersed through the battery container and then across to neighbouring properties. Under normal operation, the container would be sealed therefore there would be no material escaping.”
A Celanova FireProsafety document stated it should not be released into the environment andanyone who comes into contact with itshould“immediately remove all contaminated clothing” and“flush skin and hair with running water”
The battery facility through a neighbour’s fence. PICTURE: Lachlan Bence
Rain on Saturday washed the powder in a surrounding dam and had covered grass that nearby cattle eat as well, Mrs Brown said.
The Powercor spokeswoman said to assuage fears they were having the substance tested.
“We have engaged an independent lab to verify that the material is non-toxic,” she said.
“We have asked for the report to be expedited and expect to hear from them soon.”
Powercor held a meeting with residents near the Buninyong–Mt Mercer Road facility on Tuesday.
On Friday four Buninyong CFA fire trucks came to the battery.
Brigade captain Marc Cannan said they had been trained to deal with a fire inthe containers.
“We understand it was an inadvertent discharge of the system,” he said.
An EPA spokesman said in a statementthey had worked with the City of Ballarat on the issue on Friday, who had then given residents advice on drinking water.
“Australia’s LARGEST battery”. PICTURE: Lachlan Bence
“Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) was contacted by a property owner on Friday 15 April to advise that a fire extinguisher system within a battery storage facility had been mistakenly triggered, dispersing an aerosol dust across their property,” he said.
“The owners of the battery storage facility, Powercor, advised EPA that testing of the fire suppression system had inadvertently triggered the gas suppression canister to be discharged.
“EPA is attending the site today to assess the situation and verify information that has been provided by the community and the duty holder.”
FULL POWERCOR STATEMENT:
We were commissioning the grid-scale battery’s fire suppression system on Friday 15 April at approximately 2.15pm when a safety guard within the system inadvertently triggered and 2 canisters of suppressant (in a gas form) were released.
The gas dispersed through the battery container and then across to neighbouring properties. Under normal operation, the container would be sealed therefore there would be no material escaping.
The manufacturers of the fire suppression provided us with a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) which indicated that the expelled gas is a combination of potassium salts and aerosol. The gas contains potassium salt which is non-toxic, non-carcinogenic and not harmful to the environment.
The incident was reported to the EPA that evening and followed up on Monday 18 April. We are currently working with the EPA to ensure both the safety of the community and our employees.
The expelled gas has obviously raised concerns with the property owners located close to the battery site as they have seen a white cloud of gas float across their properties. A thin film of residue is evident in our battery container and neighbours have reported residue on their properties. We met 7 local neighbouring property owners on Tuesday 19 April to hear their concerns and have tabled actions to address their queries, which centre primarily around the health effects of the expelled gas.
We have organised an independent scientific lab to test some properties for any contamination and will present the report findings to those affected shortly.
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