AUSTRALIA: Southcorp fined A$118,00 after finally admitting effluent spill

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Australian wine giant Southcorp has been fined A$118,000 today after admitting it was responsible for 8500 kilolitres of winery effluent that split into a Barrossa Valley river late last week. The company also pleaded guilty, in the Environment, Resources and Development Court, to failing to report the spill to the Environment Protection Authority.

Australian reports had accused Southcorp of originally denying the charges back in April. However a spokesperson for the company told "We did not deny any responsibility for the spill back in March/April - we were just uncertain at that time and based on information available at that time (testing had commenced but had not been concluded) of exactly who was 100% responsible. There are a number of other major organisations along the river who could also potentially have been involved. We have now accepted full responsibility."

The court heard that a 12km stretch of the North Para River was affected by black bloom in March this year. The EPA identified the problem as winery effluent. The bloom resulted in hundreds of fish deaths and clogged the river.

The EPA charged Southcorp with the spill, however back in May this year, the Australian company would not take responsibility for the spill. It did however announce funds of $70,000 to clean up the river.

The court was presented with internal e-mails sent by Southcorp's staff at its Nuriootpa plant on March 30 which detailed an alert about the discharge from the winery.

One email from Southcorp's engineering manager central region operations Chris Malcolm said: "This note is to inform that earlier today we uncovered a waste water discharge condition which is in breach of our licence conditions."

However Malcolm in a fax to the EPA the next day only alluded to the spill. The fax said: "We have identified a drainage configuration which has the potential to cause a reportable environmental incident."

Today the company said: "The discharge originated from the Nurioopta Winery as a result of a malfunction in the effluent management processes. The fault was identified and immediately repaired to prevent any repeat incidents."

Brain Falkenberg, general manager operations, Nurioopta Winery said: "We accept the fine and now wish to bring closure to this issue with a commitment to do everything possible to ensure any similar incidents in the future."

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