34 charges laid over Melbourne factory fire

Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has filed charges following an investigation over a toxic chemical waste industrial fire that burnt for several days creating smoke across the western suburbs in August 2018.

EPA has filed a total of 34 criminal charges following a criminal investigation into a site in Tottenham that was the scene of the West Footscray fire, which contaminated the nearby Stony Creek in late August 2018.

A total of 17 charges have been filed against a private company  and a further 17 charges have been filed against that company’s director.

The charges allege that the company permitted the dumping of industrial waste at the site, caused or permitted the pollution of a local waterway and caused an environmental hazard.

In addition, the company has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated pollution – the most serious charge under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

EPA Chief Executive Officer, Dr Cathy Wilkinson, said that the charges were filed following a thorough investigation into the complex circumstances surrounding the fire.

“The charges that EPA has filed include the strongest charges EPA has at its disposal,” she said in a statement.

“We take this matter extremely seriously and will always look to hold those who pollute to account.”

The charges follow an audit that was released by Ernst and Young (EY) in May.

The audit was prompted after more than six million litres of chemical waste were discovered at the warehouses as part of targeted inspections related to 2018’s West Footscray toxic warehouse fire.

The EY report found during the audit period of January 2016 to April 2019, the EPA had inadequate record keeping and a failure to properly monitor the transport of hazardous waste.

In response to EY’s findings, Wilkinson said in a statement in May that EPA apologises to Victorians.

“Combating growing waste crime will require new technologies, intelligence capability and specialist surveillance experts,” Wilkinson said.

“We are working more closely than ever before with Victoria Police and WorkSafe to protect the community from pollution and waste.”

The cause of the 2018 blaze remains under investigation by the coroner.

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