VIC to launch review of state’s dangerous goods laws

The Victorian Government has announced it will undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s dangerous goods laws in a bid to stamp out unsafe chemical stockpiling.

According to Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy, Andrew Palmer, QC, has been appointed to conduct the review of the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and associated regulations.

“The review is the latest step in the government’s ongoing response to chemical stockpiling after two large chemical fires in West Footscray in August 2018 and Campbellfield in April 2019,” she said.

“We know that the unsafe storing, handling or disposal of dangerous chemicals poses a real threat to local communities. This review will make sure dangerous goods laws remain effective and keep Victorian’s safe.”

Immediately following the 2018 fire, Ms. Hennessy said WorkSafe led a “blitz” on industrial premises to ensure dangerous chemicals were being stored correctly.

“Government agency investigations led to the discovery of waste chemicals stockpiled at 13 sites in Melbourne’s north last year,” she said.

“A WorkSafe-led taskforce has so far removed more than 13 million litres of the stockpiled waste chemicals, clearing four sites in Epping, three in Craigieburn and three in Campbellfield. The final three sites in Campbellfield are currently being cleared.”

The state government last year introduced new penalties of up to 10 years in jail and fines of more than $6.4 million for rogue operators who manufacture, store, transport, transfer, sell or use dangerous goods in a way that places another person in danger of death.

Penalties were also increased for failing to comply with the direction of a WorkSafe Inspector, and other duties under the Dangerous Goods Act 1985.

“A review of the Act is important to ensure our laws are up to the task of protecting the community from the unacceptable risk that stockpiling of dangerous goods poses, and to deal with those who do it,” Ms Hennessy said.

A final report and recommendations are expected to be delivered to the government next year, with opportunities for public comment and stakeholder engagement later this year.

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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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New penalties for chemical stockpiling

Rogue operators who stockpile dangerous chemicals could face up to 10 years in jail, as part of Victoria’s new Dangerous Goods Amendment (Penalty Reform) Bill.

The Victorian Government announced it would crack down on operators who disregard dangerous good laws, following the discovery of millions of litres of waste chemicals stockpiled in northern suburbs warehouses earlier this year.

In a 27 August tweet, Premier Daniel Andrews said operators putting lives and health at risk would face jail time and fines in the millions.

“This is a message for any chemical cowboys out there who think they can treat our state as a dumping ground,” Mr Andrews said.

“We said we’d change the law – and today in Parliament, we’re doing just that.”

Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy said a new offence will be created for those that engage in the manufacture, storage, transport, transfer, sale or use dangerous goods in a way that places, or may place, another person in danger of death.

“Body corporates who are found guilty of this offence could face fines of more than $6.4 million,” Ms Hennessy said.

“Existing maximum penalties for endangering health and safety, property or the environment will be increased from four to five years imprisonment and from $165,000 to $297,000 in fines for individuals.”

Penalties will also be increased for failing to comply with the direction of a WorkSafe Inspector, and other duties under the Dangerous Goods Act.

WorkSafe is currently leading a government agency taskforce to remove waste chemicals from 13 sites in Epping, Campbellfield and Craigieburn.

“The clearing of these sites is well underway with approximately 6.5 million litres of waste chemicals having been removed thus far,” Ms Hennessy said.

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ACCC to reauthorise levy raise for container recycling scheme

The ACCC has proposed to allow product stewardship organisation AgStewardship to increase its levy on the sale of agricultural and veterinary (agvet) chemicals by participating manufacturers.

Funds raised from the levy are used in the drumMUSTER and ChemClear programs to collect and recycle agvet chemical containers and safely dispose of agvet chemicals.

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AgStewardship intends to increase the levy from four cents per litre of kilogram to six cents, to keep pace with increased expenses and to fund improvements to its programs.

This is the first increase in the levy since it began in 1998 and the ACCC is proposing to reauthorise the collection of the levy at the higher level for a further five years.

Over the lifespan of the programs, drumMUSTER has diverted more than 32 million containers from landfill and ChemClear has resulted in more than 661,000 litres of agvet chemicals being collected for safe disposal and recycling.

ACCC Commissioner Roger Featherston said the programs mean collection and recycling services are provided at no further cost to purchasers of agriculture and veterinary chemicals included in the scheme.

“As a result, many more containers and chemicals are returned and safely disposed of, which reduces the negative environmental, health and safety consequences of improper disposal, leading to better outcomes for farms and the environment,” Mr Featherston said.

Currently 116 manufacturers of agvet chemicals participate in the scheme, which AgStewardship estimates covers more than 90 per cent of Australian agvet chemical manufacturers.

“This is an impressive level of coverage, but if more manufacturers can be encouraged to participate in the scheme, then it should achieve even greater environmental and other public benefits,” Mr Featherston said.

Monash Uni launches research hub to transform biowaste

A new research hub is focused on transforming organic waste into marketable chemicals that can be used for a variety of uses, from medicinal gels to food packaging.

Monash University has launched the Australian Research Council (ARC) Hub for Processing Advance Lignocelluosics into Advanced Materials.

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A total of $6.8 million over five years will be invested into converting biomass and plant-based matter into materials such as cellulose-based hydrogels for personal medicine, nanocellulose films to replace food packaging and nanogels to help farmers maintain their crops.

An industry consortium composed of Visy, Amcor, Circa, Leaf, Orora, and Norske Skog will join Monash, the University of Tasmania, the University of South Australia, the Tasmanian Government and AgroParis Tech as part of the ARC hub.

The research could significantly impact pulp and paper companies, turning them into potential bio-refineries.

Three objectives have been specified to achieve this industry transformation, which involve deriving green chemicals from Australian wood and lignocellulosic streams, engineering new nanocellulose applications and developing ultralight paper and novel packaging. Potential packaging could have significantly improved physical properties, such as including radio-frequency identification technology to integrate with transport or retail systems.

Bioresource Processing Research Institute of Australia Director Gil Garnier said the research will help the Australian pulp, paper and forestry industry transform their production waste into high-grade goods.

“This hub will leverage world-leading Australian and international research capabilities in chemistry, materials science and engineering with the express aim of creating new materials, companies and jobs for our growing bioeconomy,” Prof Garnier said.

“With ongoing support and vision from our government, industry and university partners, we will identify new applications and products derived from biowaste to transform the pharmaceutical, chemicals, plastics and food packaging industries in Australia and across the world.

“In fact, one of the goals is for our industry partners to generate, within four to 10 years, 25-50 per cent of their profits from products that don’t exist today,” he said.