On the very day of the 15th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe, where a toxic cloud consumed thousands of nearby residents to the Union Carbide chemical factory in India, reports came in of a serious fire on the campus of the University of Queensland.

"The wind carried the clouds of gas out over the surrounding community, exposing more than 500,000 people to the poisons."

Local residents, threatened by the chemical laboratories proposed for St Lucia and Long Pocket, anxiously watched thick black clouds of toxic smoke swirl into the clear sky of a glorious Brisbane summer's day. They nervously pondered their predicament, and what fate awaited on this most infamous of days. For months concerned residents' groups have been delving into the proposals and the veil of secrecy surrounding the most inappropriate siting of these hazardous biochemical facilities.

Of particular worry was the admission by the University authorities in cross examination by the parliamentary Public Works Committee, that they had no plans for handling more than the most basic emergency situation. They feebly offered that in an emergency, you should dial "000" or ring the Security Desk that was manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Residents had called for the formulation of a comprehensive Risk Management Plan or RMP for such a situation.

Here and now was the realisation of their greatest fears, an apparently toxic fire spewing a chemical cocktail across the neighbourhood, with the experts apparently ill prepared to handle it. Numerous fire tenders descended upon the University, and surrounding buildings (including the Library) were hurriedly evacuated.

In the event, the fire was thankfully contained and the "spin doctors" of the administration quickly released a News Report denying any damage to the SunShark experimental solar vehicle, though admitting two persons were taken to hospital for observation. Luckily, it was out of semester time, and the campus was largely deserted. But the apprehensions of the residents, and let's face it, a good many of the staff and students, were not alleviated by potentially dangerous incidents such as this, and the continued denial of information to affected parties.

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Biohazard Action Alliance members are seeking release of the much delayed EIA for the giant CSIRO/UQ joint building project to not only give a clear comparison of the relative environmental merits of each of the alternative sites proposed, but to also ensure the risks to the community from the potential hazards are accurately described and assessed.

Whatever the conditions allowed today might be, Australians will be demanding much higher standards in planning, on emission control, and in the management of high risk laboratories in residential areas in the future.

Biohazard Action Alliance


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