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Homes in Australia's New South Wales exposed to carcinogenic chemical

(Xinhua)

16:28, August 11, 2011

SYDNEY, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- About 70 homes in Newcastle, the second largest city of New South Wales (NSW), were exposed to a chemical that can cause skin irritations and potentially cancer, the Australian NSW Government said on Thursday.

Plumes of hexavalent chromium from the Orica ammonia plant at Kooragang Island escaped at 6 p.m. (local time) for 30 minutes on Monday night.

About 70 homes in the nearby Stockton, a beachside suburb of Newcastle, were exposed to the chemical, but the NSW Government said it was not notified until mid-morning on Tuesday.

NSW Health chief health officer Kerry Chant said on Thursday the chemical had the potential to cause skin irritations, respiratory problems, and if the exposure was long term, it can cause cancer.

"In longer term settings, particularly occupational settings, where there's a high level of exposure it has been associated with increased risk of cancer, particularly lung cancer," Chant told reporters in Sydney.

But at this stage there had been no reports of illness in the community, Chant said.

However, residents in Stockton will be given more details about the incident in coming days.

The head of NSW Office of the Environment and Heritage said the office was not notified about the incident until about mid-morning on Tuesday.

NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker told parliament Orica had immediately shut down the plant and implemented emergency procedures after the chemical leak.

"Preliminary findings and sampling have confirmed that some fallout from the incident has reached the northern residential area of Stockton," Parker said.

"Detailed investigations to determine the specific chemical composition of the residue and the hazard level are currently under way."

She said Orica had been issued with a prevention notice to stop the plant reopening "until appropriate action is completed."

"The Office of Environment and Heritage will not permit the plant to restart until such time as Orica can demonstrate that the ammonia plant is safe to operate," she said.

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