Inadequate monitoring and tracking of VIC chemical waste

Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has been advised to improve its systems and process relating to chemical waste management, following its failure to properly monitor dangerous chemicals and sites across the state.

An audit was commissioned by the EPA board in the wake of the largest illegal chemical waste dumping operation in the state’s history, and the subsequent discovery of illegally stockpiled chemical waste in several sites across northern and western Melbourne.

The audit conducted by Ernst and Young (EY) covers the EPA’s management of 14 chemical waste sites between January 2016 and April 2019.

The review 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 past practices revealed by this report will be unacceptable to Victorians, and they are unacceptable to me,” EPA chief executive Dr Cathy Wilkinson said.

“For that, EPA apologises to Victorians.”

She said the challenges facing EPA have evolved rapidly in recent years, 

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

EY stated in the report that the audit identified gaps in EPA’s governance practices supporting effective oversight of incident prioritisation decisions, lack of clearly defined standards and expectations for retaining key pollution report documents, and opportunities to enhance the use of intelligence sources across the organisation.

Key findings included inconsistent approach to the documentation of pollution reports within Integrated Business Information System, inadequate monitoring and poor quality of pollution reports, incident reporting and performance.

“Public intelligence data and information was not effectively used to inform the proactive identification of emerging issues or behaviours that may result in future noncompliance or risks to community safety,” the report found.

The review also found that during the audit period, there was inadequate monitoring, reporting and trend analysis of Waste Transport Certificate data needed to identify trends and areas of key risks associated with chemical waste storage.

The report found that these certificates were not monitored, resulting in EPA staff not having full knowledge of risks.

Another finding said the EPA operated in “strong silos”, with limited ability to combat illegal storage of waste or address pollution problems important to community safety.

The Victorian Government recently invested $71.4 million to safely manage high-risk and hazardous wastes including a Waste Crime Prevention Inspectorate within EPA.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the state government had given record funding to the EPA to strengthen its operations.

“It is my expectation that the EPA works tirelessly to protect the environment and keeps Victorians safe from pollution. This is what the community deserves,” she said.

EY auditors made a number of recommendations following its findings, including system control enhancement recommendations.

“Management also needs to introduce formalised auditing processes over response decision making,” the report states. 

“Between now and the legislative go-live, we recommend that management conducts an assessment of other waste sites to review the decision making and outcomes of high priority pollution reports and whether a follow up inspection of the sites is required.”

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VIC offers $2M in grants to improve e-waste infrastructure

The Victorian Government is offering $2 million in grants for local councils and industry to improve e-waste infrastructure across the state.

Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the funding will work to strengthen Victoria’s collection, storage and reprocessing of electronic goods.

According to Ms D’Ambrosio, the new round of funding will focus on building e-waste reprocessing capability and capacity, while continuing to ensure the collection of e-waste is conducted to the highest standard.

“The state government introduced a ban on e-waste to landfill in July 2019 to pave the way for electronic items to be safely disposed of and reduce the harm these items have on the environment and human health,” she said.

“We’re supporting local councils and industry to keep potentially toxic e-waste out of landfill. This funding will allow e-waste to be reprocessed locally into valuable products – boosting jobs, supporting local businesses and helping divert more waste from landfill.”

Sustainability Victoria CEO Claire Ferres said the latest round of funding is a part of the state government’s $16.5 million investment to strengthen the e-waste sector and raise public awareness about how to dispose of e-waste correctly.

“With e-waste growing three times faster than standard municipal waste, it is vital we build a strong Victorian e-waste sector that our community trusts to deliver safe and secure management of e-waste,” she said.

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Sustainability Victoria opens Chairperson EOI’s

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio is seeking expressions of interest for the role of Sustainability Victoria Chairperson.

According to a Sustainability Victoria statement, the appointment will be for a term not exceeding five years, as determined by the minister.

“Sustainability Victoria is established under the Sustainability Victoria Act 2005 to facilitate and promote environmental sustainability in the use of resources. The chairperson leads the board in providing strategic direction to, and ensuring the good governance of, Sustainability Victoria,” the statement reads.

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VIC EPA seeks new chairperson

The Victorian EPA is seeking a new chairperson after Cheryl Batagol announced she would not pursue a term extension in June.

Environment Minister Lily D’ambrosio is now seeking expression of interest for chairperson and EPA Governing Board appointments.

These appointments are expected to commence from 1 July 2020 for a term not exceeding five years, as determined by the minister.

Ms Batagol said it had been a pleasure and privilege to serve as EPA chairperson for more than 10 years.

“I have been privileged to lead the board through a significant period of transition, and I have every confidence EPA is well positioned to deliver on the Victorian Government’s response to the EPA Inquiry and continue on a path of continuous improvement,” Ms Batagol said.

“EPA will be entering an exciting new era with the commencement of Victoria’s new, world-leading environment laws on 1 July, and it is fitting a new chairperson oversee the next chapter.”

Ms Batagol thanked EPA Cheif Executive Cathy Wilkinson and the executive team for their commitment to service.

“Being the inaugural chairperson of EPA’s statutory Governing Board, which was established on 1 July 2018, has been an absolute honour – and I would like to thank my esteemed colleagues for their support and commitment to EPA and its once-in-a-generation reforms,” Ms Batagol said.

“Prior to this, I was a standalone chair and then chairperson of EPA’s Interim Advisory Board. Having a full statutory board has brought stronger governance and greater diversity, which we are now seeing the benefits of.”

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