Cover Story

Problem-solving contaminants: Enviropacific

Enviropacific’s SOLVE facility is open for business and poised to provide an advanced solution for the management of contaminated soil, waste and liquids.

While industrialisation lifted the standard of living for millions across the globe, over the past two centuries, invention upon invention has brought with them a scourge of unknown chemicals.

In 1978, the United Nations Environment Program annual report estimated four million chemical substances had been identified, with 30,000 of those commercially produced. The way these chemical substances enter the environment is complex, from direct application such as pesticides and herbicides to PFAS and waste effluent flows from manufacturing, transport and product consumption.

Every year thousands of new chemical substances are discovered and with that comes the need for exposure assessment, hazard and risk characterisation and, once appropriate – treatment.

In 2014, Lynne Goldman, a former Administrator for Toxic Substances at the US EPA highlighted that in just 25 years to the 1970s, the volume of synthetic organic compounds tripled. However, understanding which chemicals are in use and how many there are is not an easy question to answer, estimating around 84,000 chemicals exist in commerce in the US.

Analysing, understanding and treating the plethora of organic compounds is supported by companies in Australia like Enviropacific. Enviropacific, a specialist environmental services provider, comprises four core services to the market: remediation, water treatment, fuel facilities and hazardous waste. The company operates integrated facilities across Victoria, NSW and QLD, with operations in SA, NT, WA and Tasmania.

Enviropacific sees its role as eliminating the harmful legacies of the past and supporting reactivation and beneficial reuse of urban space once considered a wasteland.

David Tucker, CEO of Enviropacific, tells Waste Management Review a critical part of the company’s mission is to create safer and healthier communities.

“Humankind leaves, and will continue to leave, a brown footprint of contamination. We see our role quite simply as being able to clean that up one step at a time,” David explains.

“We have a clear purpose around making places safer and healthier and I think that resonates really well with our customers, employees and the broader community.”

Importantly, Enviropacific offers the Australian market a specialised alternative for the management of contaminated soils and industrial wastes – diverting it from finite landfill.

Its knowledgeable team combines science, skills and initiative with an environmental focus.

Enviropacific’s journey began in 2001, when two friends, Matt Fensom and Cameron McLean, founded the company, initially starting with remediation works.

Over the next decade, they expanded the business across the eastern seaboard for soil and water treatment. They acquired end-of-life fuel facilities for remediation and enhanced their design capabilities in fuel storage and handling.

One of the most exciting developments for Enviropacific arrived around 2012, when it took on thermal desorption capabilities to treat organic soils.

Thermal desorption effectively separates contaminants from soil by heating it in a chamber and vaporising the moisture and organic contaminants out of the soil. A vacuum or gas system takes the vaporised water and contaminants into an off-gas treatment system which converts them to carbon dioxide and water.

David says that along the way there were a range of successful projects for Enviropacific, but two major ones spring to mind.

He says that one of Enviropacific’s breakthrough projects was the Villawood project in NSW, a remediation of a 13-hectare former pesticide manufacturing facility. The $15 million project was awarded in 2012 and saw the treatment of around 37,000 tonnes of impacted material using onsite ex-situ thermal treatment.

Five or 10 kilometres away from Enviropacific’s treatment facility in Altona, the company between 2013 to 2015 undertook one of the most significant remediation projects in Victoria. RAAF Base Point Cook is the longest continuously operating military airfield in the world and saw Enviropacific excavate and treat more than 70,000 tonnes of highly contaminated soils onsite. This was done using ex-situ direct fired thermal desorption capabilities.

Historical firefighting training activities had significantly tainted the underlying soil and groundwater and contaminated it with a range of chlorinated solvents and hydrocarbons.  These were presented as DNAPL, LNAPL and dissolved phase contamination, which is why Enviropacific’s capabilities were needed.

“With the risk of these contaminants leaching into the bay, we were called in to treat that material. We installed a site-specific plant, manufactured by Tarmac International in the US,” David says.

Taking on such an advanced capacity came with the award of major water treatment projects in 2016, including a $30 million water treatment plant project at Barangaroo in Sydney and the first large-scale water treatment project for PFAS at Coolangatta Airport on the Gold Coast.

When David was invited by the Enviropacific board to lead the company, he says the market for hazardous waste was evolving, with the EPA taking considerable interest in thermal desorption.

Enviropacific saw a need for a fixed thermal desorption facility and agreed to create a new operation known simply as SOLVE.

SOLVE was established in mid 2018, and by the following year, the site was fully operational.

With a background in engineering, including various Tier 1 contractors, David says he was attracted by Enviropacific’s strong environmental purpose. He says he saw an opportunity to develop the company’s people and processes.

“The issue of stopping, reversing or perhaps even preventing environmental harm was really always the core of the business. Our core competency is our people and their capabilities in applied science and engineering,” David says.

“I’m still a strong believer that while the company has grown and doubled over the last three years, we certainly see potential to do that again and SOLVE is very much an important part of that.”

Enviropacific’s SOLVE facility treats more than 20 kinds of contaminated soils, wastes and liquids using thermal desorption to remove and destroy contaminants.

Strategically located in Melbourne’s Altona industrial precinct, Enviropacific has the capabilities to remediate Category A and B contaminant streams, including PFAS, scheduled and other prescribed industrial waste.

David says that SOLVE aligns well with the EPA’s enthusiasm for reliable and integrated facilities that treat contaminated materials. It also allows it to service a broad customer base, including property developers, infrastructure construction contractors, industrial sites and local government.

“We have a vision to not only serve our own clients and provide an integrated service for them, but also a direct service to the market and both run in parallel,” David says.

As the company developed SOLVE, Amy Wells, an experienced engineer and operations manager, was brought on in late 2019 to lead the plant as Facility Manager.

With more than 20 years’ experience, Amy remains focused on building a positive and collaborative problem-solving culture at Enviropacific.

Amy’s significant contracting experience, ability to manage people and teams and background in running fixed facilities were key reasons behind her appointment.

“Knowing that there is a belief that people can learn and grow is really important to getting the right people on board when you’re integrating these technologies,” Amy explains.

She says that having a fixed facility has numerous advantages, including providing customers with a stable and reliable service.

“We can get rid of problems in different communities and then start to treat these different contaminants together in a way that wouldn’t work project by project.”

The SOLVE plant, a Tarmac plant, is one of around 25 around the globe, and David says Enviropacific keeps a close eye on their experiences overseas. David says the efficiency of the plant and reliability makes it one of the best.

“The facility is licensed to process 100,000 tonnes per annum. There’s around 200,000 tonnes of capacity in the market.”

Last year saw the advancement of numerous projects for SOLVE, including Fitzroy Gasworks, Melbourne Metro, West Gate Tunnel and proposed infrastructure and associated development projects. Increasingly stringent state and federal environmental regulations are driving greater treatment, recovery and reuse, and creating greater avenues for Enviropacific.

Additionally, the growing infrastructure and property renewal market is also opening doors for the company.

At this stage, the end use of a majority of SOLVE materials is for landfill capping and construction, but Enviropacific hopes to find other beneficial uses as the market develops.

SOLVE adopts strict controls, including screening prior to assessing treatment suitability and undertaking the thermal desorption process. The thermal desorption process sees the material heated to temperatures of around 500°C and contaminants are desorbed from the solid matrix and collected into the vapour stream.

Once this is complete, the material is ready for rehydration in a pugmill, cooling and stockpiling. The off-gas stream passes through a cyclone to remove larger particles and the gas containing desorbed contaminants is oxidised at temperatures reaching 1100°C.

This destroys harmful organic compounds and the gas cools rapidly to prevent contaminant formation. Fine particles are removed via a baghouse and the acid gas created in the process is neutralised through an acid scrubbing process.

Continuous emission testing ensures compliance with regulations. The treated materials are stockpiled and subject to stringent validation sampling to ensure successful treatment.

The material must be classified for end use and accepted to the site where it will be beneficially reused as engineered fill.

Amy says that proof-of-performance testing, including receival, storage, handling and treatment of new contaminants, allows Enviropacific to take on new projects and expand its service offering.

She adds that information sharing with Enviropacific’s diverse range of experienced engineers, from wastewater treatment to hazardous waste, paves the way for upstream and downstream solutions.

Moreover, the site’s Altona location lends itself to securing adjacent projects and sources of contamination from one of Melbourne’s largest manufacturing precincts.

Amy says the company is looking to provide its services to other states, including NSW, QLD and SA. For example, liquids have already been brought in from QLD as part of an expansion trial, and solids from NSW.

“Our growth will be internally by taking our capabilities interstate, but we also want to take on new contaminants and capabilities too.”

One issue that Amy is proud to be tackling is PFAS.

“People are keen to see a solution and to know that we can take PFAS and treat it here in a very safe way takes that hazard away,” she says.

“There are a number of federal defence sites that are looking for a known way to treat it instead of leaving it in-situ and trying to care take it.”

As PFAS is soluble, concentrates can be pushed through the SOLVE facility and destroyed.

David says there are immense opportunities to increase the company’s capabilities in both soil and water treatment in a staged manner.

“We have a very strong vision for SOLVE. The first focus is always on ensuring developing our capabilities and markets to deliver 100,000 tonnes per year and we’ll be looking at augmenting the facility to increase capacity,” he says.

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