Something smells at gas plant

ESSO has confirmed an increase in benzene levels in the settling and retention ponds at its Longford plant in November, but denied that employee and neighbour health had been compromised.

Longford farmer Ray Shingles, whose property neighbours Esso's Longford plant, aired his concerns to the Gippsland Times after experiencing burning eyes, a sore throat and nausea following a "toxic" smell.

After raising the problem with Esso, Mr Shingles said he had been informed of an increase of benzene levels in the areas of the settling and retention ponds at the Longford plant.

An Esso spokesman confirmed the increase in benzene levels, but denied employee and neighbour health had been compromised.

The spokesman said an increased odour had come from a higher than normal build up of crude oil in the settling and retention ponds.

"The incident occurred in November," the spokesman said.

"Esso met with him (Mr Shingles) to explain what had occurred and we regret any inconvenience caused by the unpleasant odour.

"We did offer the neighbour a hotel stay if the odour was too great, but as far as I'm aware he did not take up that offer. As far as I'm aware he (Mr Shingles) is the only neighbour to have complained."

The spokesman denied a claim from Community Over Mining that the increase in benzene levels were dangerous enough that Esso workers needed to wear protective clothing and breathing apparatus.

""Over time we have removed the odour, which disappeared some time ago," he said. "Obviously we have stringent procedures in place handling hydrocarbons."

Esso has not explained why the EPA was not notified of the leakage until weeks after the event.

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