National Plan for PFAS to released to protect environment and health

The heads of all state and territory EPAs and the Federal Government have released a National Environment Management Plan for PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) to help protect the environment and human health.

The National Plan details what regulators view as suitable practices to handling contamination and waste from these long-lasting chemicals.

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It describes how to properly deal with and clean up contaminated sites, how to best treat soil and waste, and methods for safely destroying the chemicals.

PFAS are manufactured chemicals that make products heat resistant, non-stick, water repellent, and weather and stain resistant.

Prior to the plan, there was no consistent guidance or direction for communities that had been affected by PFAS.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s Executive Director Assessments, Tim Eaton, said PFAS chemicals have been used for decades in a range of products, including pesticides, stain repellents and fire-fighting foams.

“PFAS compounds have had a wide range of uses because they resist heat, chemical and biological degradation, and are very stable,” Mr Eaton said.

“There is now growing concern worldwide about the effects of PFAS on our health and on animals and plants, because of that chemical stability and the fact that they easily enter the environment, moving into soil, creeks, rivers and lakes.  We know there are sites with PFAS contamination, so we are working collectively to manage them.”

The plan can be read at http://www.epa.vic.gov.au/PFAS_NMP

EPA Victoria warns of tyre stockpile fire hazard

Environment Protection Authority Victoria has issued a warning to landowners about the flammable risk of tyre stockpiles over summer and its consequences on human health.

Chris Webb of the EPA’s Illegal Waste Disposal Strikeforce said summer grass fires and bushfires are dangerous enough without stockpiles of unused waste tyres waiting in their path.

“Tyre fires are very hard to control and generate hazardous smoke that can cause an even greater health risk to the community, through the inhalation of particles and chemicals,” Mr Webb said.

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“It’s a threat to the landholder’s livelihood and the homes and safety of people who live nearby, whether they are on neighbouring farms or in a nearby town or suburban area,” he said.

“Farmers do have some practical uses for old tyres like holding down tarps, but many tyre stockpiles are just a fire hazard and a threat to the environment.”

EPA Victoria noted old tyres shouldn’t be used for erosion control or around new trees, it is illegal to burn or dump them. If left for long enough, they begin to decay and can pollute the soil and groundwater.

In 2015, EPA introduced tighter controls for waste tyre storage, prompting a significant reduction in the number of known stockpiles across Victoria, but there are more stockpiles out there.

The regulations require any stockpile of more than 40 tonnes or 5000 waste tyres to be licensed, with requirements for on-site firefighting resources, limits on the size of the piles and minimum distances between and around them.

EPA’s Illegal Waste Disposal Strikeforce is tackling the problem of stockpiles of unused waste tyres, encouraging owners to help to protect the community by making sure their stockpile complies with the regulations, or by legally disposing of the tyres.

Some waste tyres go to landfill, but many can be recycled, and there are several recycling companies in Victoria. When EPA recently took over a long-standing stockpile of approximately one million waste tyres at Stawell, most of those tyres were recycled.  EPA is now pursuing the stockpile owners through the courts.

“When necessary, EPA can exercise legal power to order that an illegal tyre stockpile be removed for appropriate disposal, fine the owner or take the case to court, but we would much rather that landholders looked at the regulations, and either made sure their stockpile was legal or disposed of it responsibly,” Mr Webb said.

To view the EPA tyre regulations and CFA/MFB guidelines for the safe storage of tyres, visit their website. 

If any member of the community suspects someone is illegally stockpiling tyres or taking them to a place that cannot lawfully accept waste tyres, they are encouraged to contact EPA’s 24-hour pollution hotline on 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842).

Applications open for Environment Protection Board

The Victorian Government has opened expressions of interest for a new Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Governing Board.

The Governing Board will lead EPA Victoria through the transition to new governance arrangements and implement the Victorian Government’s response to the Independent Inquiry into the EPA.

The EPA is seeking high caliber applicants with skills, knowledge or experience in a variety of key areas – including science or engineering, health, environment protection or regulation, regulation of industry, community engagement and local government.

The start of the appointment process follows the passage of the Environment Protection Act 2017 in October  – the first of two pieces of legislation that will overhaul the 47-year-old Environment Protection Act 1970.

The Victorian Government has invested $162.5 million over five years in reforms to environment protection, including $3.1 million for reforms to EPA governance to ensure its independence and accountability.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the reforms that come out of the Environment Protection Act 2017 will help build a stronger, modern EPA to better protect Victoria’s environment and our community.

Applications will be open until 20 November, for a 1 July 2018 commencement. Interested candidates can apply at getonboard.vic.gov.au.

Spring is the season for illegal dumping: EPA Victoria

NSW EPA consults on reforms to recycling C&D waste

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has urged Victorians to choose a reputable bin hire company, as the spring season emerges as the peak period for illegal dumping.

As Victorians get busy redecorating and building, the EPA said this is the time where far too many skip bin loads of renovation waste going missing.

The growth areas of Melbourne, such as the Cities of Hume, Brimbank, Wyndham and Manningham are the hotspots in the metropolitan area, and EPA is working with local councils there and wherever illegal dumping occurs.

Illegal dumping is also a problem in regional areas such as Bendigo, Mildura, Ararat and Geelong where dumping commonly occurs on farmland or on public land such as state or national parks.

Chris Webb of the EPA’s Illegal Waste Disposal Strikeforce says anyone hiring a skip bin should be careful to choose a respectable company.

“Illegal dumping contaminates the environment, it disadvantages the honest businesses who pay the fees for proper disposal, and it often leaves the community or landholders paying for the clean up,” Mr Webb said.

“There are fly-by-night skip bin operators who will give you a very cheap price, then abandon your renovation waste in the bush, on private land or in a rented warehouse,” he said.

“The landholder, your local council, or even you, might be the one left with the clean-up cost, and unlike the skip bin, it won’t be cheap.”

Typical materials dumped illegally include construction and demolition waste, hazardous materials such as asbestos, and household waste.

“The fine for illegal dumping can be thousands of dollars, and then comes the cost of the clean-up and proper disposal,” Mr Webb said.

The EPA notes that anyone hiring a skip bin should ask questions. If the price seems suspiciously cheap in comparison to other quotes, it may mean the real cost is being dumped on the community and attracting possible prosecution.

The EPA also encouraged the community to watch out for suspicious activities – such as unusual truck movements at night, commercial properties or warehouses collecting piles of waste, or very cheap offers of waste removal – and to report it to the regulator.

During the past two years, EPA has undertaken nearly 350 illegal dumping related inspections, issued more than 170 legal notices requiring a clean up, conducted prosecutions through the courts and issued Infringement Notices that represent a fine of nearly $8000 each.

Anyone with information about illegal dumping is encouraged to report it to EPA by calling 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842) or via the website www.epa.vic.gov.au

Multimillion dollar Stawell clean-up engaged by EPA Victoria

A stockpile of scrap tyres

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has removed a stockpile of approximately one million tyres from a Stawell site that would have posed a major hazard for nearby communities if it had caught fire.

EPA CEO Nial Finegan said EPA had removed about 9500 tonnes of tyres and shred after repeated failure by the site’s owners to comply with orders to reduce the risk of fire at the site.

“On 2 August 2017, it was decided that little to no effort had been made by the stockpile’s owner to comply with a Country Fire Authority (CFA) Fire Prevention Notice or any of three EPA notices issued on the site that required the owner to reduce the risk of fire at the site and to segregate tyres into smaller piles; therefore, unacceptable environmental and community risks remained on the eve of the forthcoming fire season,” Mr Finegan said.

“In short, EPA was of the view that the stockpile appeared to have been abandoned or was being handled in a manner by the owners that was likely to cause an environmental hazard.”

Over 380 trucks filled with tyre and shred were taken from the site, with the majority going to Melbourne to be processed at an EPA-licensed site. The site has been inspected twice-weekly during the process to ensure appropriate management. EPA Victoria estimates about 35 per cent were unable to be processed due to contamination from mud and dirt and went to landfill.

Mr Finegan said if the stockpile had caught fire it would have had many environmental, economic and social risks for Stawell and its surrounds.

“The environmental impacts would have included air quality, firewater runoff into local waterways and land contamination. By removing this stockpile, EPA has removed these risks to both the local community and our environment,” Mr Finegan said.

“In the event of a fire there would likely have been a need to evacuate about 7000 people from Stawell. A fire also would have impacted on the brand of Grampians tourism in areas such as the Great Western and the Pyrenees and Grampians wine regions.

“There would also have been agricultural impacts, waterway impacts from fire water and contamination, and a likely closure of major highway and railway connections, not to mention the cost of a likely several-month firefight.

Mr Finegan said EPA’s action to remove the stockpile was seen as a last resort and it will seek to recover costs from current and/or previous owners and occupiers of the site.

“For 10 years, various owners of the stockpile were given every opportunity to comply with legal and regulatory obligations but failed to take material steps to properly manage the site’s risks to the community,” Mr Finegan said.

“The removal of this fire hazard has cost about $5 million, but EPA will use its legal powers to seek to recover these costs from the owners of the site through the courts.”

The coordinated effort saw ignificant input from Northern Grampians Shire Council, CFA, Victoria Police, Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water, Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) and Department of Health and Human Services.

EPA also engaged private sector partners and local subcontractors to remove the stockpile.