Brewing Controversy: Protecting Brisbane’s Ordinands


The recent legal tussle between Brisbane’s Anglican Church and the XXXX brewery reported in the Couriermail has brought to light significant safety and health concerns over the brewery's proposed expansion. The case hinges on the brewery's plan to add three 40,000-litre ethanol storage tanks, which has raised alarms among the nearby St Francis Theological College, where the Anglican Church trains its ordinands. 

Besides its historical importance, the location also houses Old Bishopsbourne and the chapel of the Holy Spirit, a specifically designed residence for ecclesiastical leaders built from 1865 to 1868. This building carries significant weight in Queensland's past, especially in the Anglican Church's efforts to solidify its presence during the mid-19th century. As a recent graduate invested in these matters, I feel its my duty to shed light on this story and report on insights that the mainstream media may have overlooked.


Ethanol, despite its benefits as a renewable energy source, carries substantial risks. Its highly flammable nature poses serious fire and explosion hazards. The flash point of ethanol is just 14°C (57.2°F), meaning it can ignite at relatively low temperatures​ (Gexcon, 2024)​. In confined spaces with poor ventilation, ethanol vapours can form explosive mixtures with air, leading to potentially catastrophic vapour cloud explosions (VCEs)​​. This risk is particularly pronounced in the case of the proposed storage tanks, which would be located dangerously close to residential and educational buildings at the college.

Henry Persson's research sheds light on the unique challenges posed by ethanol tank fires, emphasizing the critical importance of understanding ethanol's flammability properties and burning behavior (Persson, 2011). Persson's findings reveal that pure ethanol forms flammable vapors at a broader temperature range compared to gasoline, increasing the risk of ignition in storage tanks.


The health risks associated with ethanol exposure are another major concern. Inhaling ethanol vapours can cause respiratory irritation, headaches, nausea, and in severe cases, stupor or even coma​ (Gexcon, 2024)​. The Anglican Church's case highlight these potential health issues, stressing the danger posed to students and staff who might be exposed to these emissions on a regular basis.


According to the ABS website, over 17% of the residents in the Milton suburb where the college is located are aged over 50. This demographic may be especially vulnerable to respiratory problems from ethanol exposure. One potential solution is to suggest that the XXXX Brewery relocate the ethanol tanks to an industrial area farther from residential neighborhoods.

From a theological and ethical standpoint, the Church’s opposition to the brewery’s expansion is grounded in its duty to protect its community. Biblical teachings emphasize the importance of safeguarding the vulnerable. In Isaiah 1:17, it is written, "learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." This passage underscores the Church’s moral obligation to advocate for those in need and uphold justice, even in the face of powerful interests. It reflects the Church's commitment to stand against potential harm to its community members and ensure their safety and well-being.


In this week's lectionary reading of Isaiah 6:8, we encounter the prophet’s resolute response to God’s call: "Here am I; send me!" This declaration embodies a profound willingness to step forward, despite personal doubts or fears, and undertake the task set before him. Similarly, the Church, in its opposition to the brewery’s expansion, demonstrates a readiness to confront challenges and advocate for the welfare of its community. Just as Isaiah offered himself for service, the Church steps forward as a voice for safety and ethical responsibility, embracing the call to protect its members and uphold the values of compassion and justice. This mission is especially signifciant as the Church trains its ordinands, shaping them to be leaders who not only serve spiritually but also stand as stewards of the community's well-being. 


The concerns raised by the Church are not unfounded. There have been several notable incidents involving ethanol storage and handling that underscore the associated risks. For example, a fire during ethanol tank maintenance in India in December 2023 resulted in fatalities and injuries​ (Bureau, 2023)​. Similarly, explosions at ethanol plants in South Dakota and Nebraska in 2023 caused deaths and injuries, further highlighting the dangers of ethanol​ (Schumacher, 2023; Carmona, 2023). A major event also occurred in Minnesota in March 2023 when an ethanol-transporting train derailed and multiple carriages caught fire. This resulted in the immediate evacuation of about eight hundred local residents (Lenthang, 2023).

 
In 2017, a significant incident hit close to home in Australia as brigades battled a major ethanol fire in Moama. The blaze erupted when a semi-trailer carrying 20,000 liters of ethanol went up in flames on a Sunday. The intensity of the fire led to its continuance, with authorities predicting it would burn for several days (Riverine Herald Nov 5 et al., 2023). These incidents emphasize the critical need for rigorous safety measures and risk management.


The Church's legal action initiated by the representation of Colin Biggers & Paisley involves an appeal in the district court, both the Brisbane City Council, and Lion-Beer Spirits and Wine the brewery's owner have been named as respondents. The case against the XXXX brewery’s expansion is not merely about regulatory compliance; it’s about safeguarding the health and safety of the community. The legal battle could set a precedent for future development projects in Brisbane, influencing how the city council weighs industrial development against community safety concerns.

It should be noted that this isn't the first instance where the Church has found itself at odds with the brewing industry. History offers a striking parallel in events like the 'Vretslav Beer War' of medieval Europe, where clashes between ecclesiastical and secular powers over local interests were starkly evident. Intriguingly, in that historical conflict, the people favored the church's brew. Similarly, the current dispute in Brisbane mirrors this age-old tension between corporate agendas and the Church's responsibility to prioritize the safety and welfare of its community.

The concerns raised by the Anglican Church are based on both practical safety considerations and ethical responsibilities. Ensuring the well-being of the students and staff at St Francis Theological College is paramount, and the risks associated with ethanol storage cannot be overlooked. Councillor Seal Chong Wah could be a crucial ally in addressing these issues. Elected in March 2024, Seal's website states that she is committed to ecological sustainability and social justice, making her a vital advocate in navigating these concerns and ensuring the local community's voices are heard. Why not email her your concerns about this ethanol issue at paddington.ward@bcc.qld.gov.au?

Let us pray: Loving Creator, We seek your guidance and protection concerning St. Francis Theological College and the proposed expansion of the XXXX brewery. Grant wisdom to all involved as they consider the safety of the community, particularly the students and staff of the college. Direct the local Councillor and the Planning and Environment Committee with compassion and clear judgment. May fairness and concern guide their decisions. Amen.


Citations

Bureau, T.H. (2023) One dead, one injured in blast at Indian Oil Corporation’s terminal in Chennai, The Hindu. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/worker-dead-in-blast-at-indian-oil-corporation-in-tamil-nadus-tondiarpet-facility/article67679288.ece (Accessed: 24 May 2024). 

Carmona, L. (2023) One dead, four injured in explosion at Wood River Ethanol Plant, https://www.ksnblocal4.com. Available at: https://www.ksnblocal4.com/2023/04/17/emergency-crews-respond-reported-explosion-green-plains-ethanol/ (Accessed: 24 May 2024). 

Gexcon (2024) Ethanol: Associated hazards and safety measures , Gexcon AS - Fire & Explosion Consultants. Available at: https://www.gexcon.com/blog/ethanol-associated-hazards-and-safety-measures/ (Accessed: 24 May 2024). 

Lenthang, M. (2023) Train carrying ethanol derails and catches fire in Minnesota, forcing residents to evacuate, NBCNews.com. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/train-carrying-ethanol-derails-catches-fire-sparking-evacuation-reside-rcna77363 (Accessed: 24 May 2024). 

Persson, H. (2011) Fighting an ethanol tank fire presents unique challenges, Ethanol Producer Magazine. Available at: https://ethanolproducer.com/articles/fighting-an-ethanol-tank-fire-presents-unique-challenges-7788 (Accessed: 24 May 2024). 

Riverine Herald Nov 5 et al. (2023) Brigades douse major ethanol fire in Moama, Shepparton News. Available at: https://www.sheppnews.com.au/news/truck-destroyed-in-fire-at-moama/ (Accessed: 24 May 2024). 

Schumacher, A. (2023) Ringneck energy back in action following explosion, Agweek. Available at: https://www.agweek.com/agribusiness/ringneck-energy-back-in-action-following-explosion (Accessed: 24 May 2024). 

Photo: A medieval monk brewing beer, from Die Nürnberger Hausbücher, 1506. PUBLIC DOMAIN 

Brewing Controversy: Protecting Brisbane’s Ordinands Brewing Controversy: Protecting Brisbane’s Ordinands Reviewed by Shane St Reynolds on May 24, 2024 Rating: 5

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