Gunns pulp mill - the risks: a lecture by pulp and paper expert Dr Warwick Raverty


Dr Warwick Raverty has over 25 years experience in the pulp and paper industry. He has been a research manager and senior principal research scientist in the pulp and paper research group of Ensis (formerly CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products) for the past 7 years. Prior to joining CSIRO, Dr Raverty gained 20 years industrial experience in manufacture of pulp and paper as an independent consultant and also in a variety of research, technical and managerial roles as an employee of Amcor and Australian Paper Manufacturers.

Dr Raverty has extensive experience in kraft pulping, bleaching and related fibre processing technologies. Dr Raverty has also been involved in environmental assessment and in development of new methods for odour control in kraft pulp mills, waste water treatment and recycling.

Dr Raverty has a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Melbourne and is a member of the Australasian Pulp and Paper Technical Association (Appita) and resigned from the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry of North America (Tappi) last year with regret because he could no longer afford the membership fees.

 Dr. Raverty is a scientist with the CSIRO who has acquired much experience and knowledge in the building and running of kraft pulpmills. He was the chief technical adviser to the RPDC until forced to resign by the interference of the Pulpmill Taskforce and consequent challenge by the Greens.

The lecture

Dr. Raverty spoke to an audience of 300 to 400 people in Launceston on Monday 26th March 2007 for about two hours and answered questions from the floor. Before discussing the mill Dr.Raverty told a stunned audience that Gunns' project manager Les Baker tried to stop him from speaking out by ringing up his boss at the CSIRO.This is what he had to say about Gunns planned  Longreach pulp mill.

SMELL The odour from the kraft pulpmill at Tumut took five years to control. The Tumut mill is one fifth the size of Longreach and was built and is operated by a firm, Visy, that have years of experience in running pulp and paper mills. Gunns have no experience with pulp and papermills at all. There is no such thing as a kraft pulpmill that does not smell and to build one in a valley with an inversion layer where 100,000 people live does not seem a very sensible decision. There are over 400 places in a mill that can cause odour and so it is difficult to pin the cause down.

A bottle was passed around with some of the odourous chemicals from Tumut and it was generally agreed that the smell was quite repulsive. The very latest high technology mill at Stendal in Germany has developed odour problems in its second year of operation, probably due to all of the many thousands of plastic pipe and pump seals becoming saturated with odour over the course of the first 12 months of operation. Dr.Raverty emphasised that what Finns and Swedes, like Jaakko Powry's experts, considered odour-free would be quite unacceptable to the noses of most Tasmanians. A mill with the same odour abatement system as the Stendal mill built at Hampshire would not create odour problems. At Longreach the same mill is virtually certain to cause major odour problems and even stunt lung development in children living near the mill, according to the latest AMA evidence.

ATMOSPHERE The full monitoring and modelling of the Tamar valley airshed will not be complete until 31st July. Yet the consultant hired to assess the mill has to give his answer by 31st May.

EFFLUENT Dr. Raverty admitted that he was not an expert on effluent treatment but said that if Gunns persisted with their plan to produce their own Sodium Chlorate then there was a danger that excess organochlorines would be produced in contravention of the Stockholm Convention. For this reason alone, Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull might be obliged to turn down the mill for fear of breaching the Convention to which Australia was a signatory. He also said that the ocean currents at a Hampshire outfall would be much more efficient at diluting the effluent.

WATER SUPPLY Pulpmills tend to last for 100 years so to place one in an area where there is a possible supply shortage with changing weather patterns in the future does not seem very sensible as there is an alternative site at Hampshire where there are no such problems.

FOGS AND SMOGS This is a real issue with a tonne of water vapour expelled into the atmosphere for every tonne of pulp produced. In Alabama, USA, there is a pulp and paper mill operated by Kimberly Clark that produces water vapour in similar quantities and this produces 'white-outs' on local highways that have been responsible for multiple pile-ups and deaths. These 'white-outs' are most likely to occur in Winter on the East Tamar Highway as it passes the Longreach site.

VISUAL ASPECT Dr.Raverty said he personally liked the sight of pulpmills but he could understand that many wouldn't! He said that we can expect at times a very large cloud of steam above the factory which will be visible for miles.

ACCIDENTS The storage of 50 tonnes of chlorine on site as part of Gunns proposal (banned under the Emission Limit Guidelines) to produce their own sodium chlorate means that in the event of an accident everybody and everything within a 19km radius could be wiped out!

CHOICE OF SITE Dr. Raverty, who helped write the guidelines, said that the guidelines were written on the assumption that the mill would be built in a remote location a year before Gunns were known to be the proponent and before any site was identified. He said that the decision to site the mill at Longreach is extremely risky and based on greed. The Longreach site is the worst possible, the Hampshire site is far more suitable. Gunns were asked to justify their site selection in the IIS but failed to do so. (Note: Dr Raverty has revised his support for a pulp mill at Hampshire and now believes that Gunns should not build a pulp mill anywhere in Tasmania).

WHY DR. RAVERTY RESIGNED FROM THE RPDC The resignation was forced by a perception of bias which could have resulted in the assessment process getting bogged down in a court action. Some years ago a Judge was disqualified from a case involving BHP because he owned a few BHP shares. This acts as a legal precedent and Dr.Raverty works for the CSIRO. The Pulpmill Taskforce put some work done by the CSIRO on its website to support the pulpmill. (Some people, but not Dr.Raverty, believe this was done on purpose to sabotage the RPDC.) In a conversation with Dr.Raverty on 20th December 2006,Julian Green said that Solicitor-General, Bill Bale said both Dr.Raverty and Julian Green had almost no alternative but to resign in the public interest. Julian Green also called Paul Lennon a little **** and Gunns a bunch of clowns. Julian Green refused to meet Paul Lennon on the 4th January because Julian feared he might lose control of himself and punch Lennon in the face!

CONCLUSION Dr.Raverty said that he joined the RPDC in the expectation of helping Tasmania have a World-class Pulpmill and that was still possible. But as more and more information came to light he realised that Longreach was the wrong place for it and that Gunns had made a mistake choosing the site. Letters were written to Gunns to explain this but were ignored. He questioned Gunns' managerial skills in choosing a process for chlorine dioxide production that was not considered World's best practice and, as such, is not used by any other pulpmill in the World. At an interview on radio later in the week Dr.Raverty said "Gunns do not have to meet some of even the most rudimentary guidelines. There are in fact so many loopholes in the Bill that one MLC said the Bill should not be called the Pulpmill Bill 2007, but the Gunns Dream Bill 2007". Courtesy of


Update Regarding the risk of accidents from 50 tonnes of chlorine stored on site, Dr Raverty said that since the lecture, Les Baker representing Gunns, assured him 'that all such potentially hazardous chemicals will be used in the mill as they are produced’.