Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Autumn - April 2017

From the Chair and CEO

NSW EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier

Welcome to our first edition of EPA Connect for 2017.

In January, we welcomed the Hon Gabrielle Upton as the new Minister for the Environment, Minister for Local Government and Minister for Heritage. Minister Upton is the Member for Vaucluse. In this edition we cover Minister Upton’s launch of the Hey Tosser! Autumn campaign, including the launch of 40 GPS-tracked bottles across the state’s waterways, to raise awareness of litter impacts.

March marked 25 years since the establishment of the NSW EPA and five years since we were re-established as an independent agency in our current role. Over those years we have seen some significant improvements to the environment and human health as a direct result of our activities and our partnerships with many of you. We look forward to working together with you for another 25 years and beyond.

I’m sure you’re aware that the EPA is working on delivering the NSW Container Deposit Scheme – a major game changer in reducing litter across the state. Following requests from environment groups and industry bodies, the CDS implementation date has been extended by five months, and will progressively roll out to locations from 1 December. This will help ensure the program is world-leading from day one and will operate smoothly for consumers and industry.

A big thanks to those of you who participated in our survey of stakeholders in December last year. The insights you provided are of great value to the EPA and help us to continue to be an effective leader, partner and protector for the NSW community and the environment. I will share these insights in the next edition of the newsletter.

In April the EPA attended the National PFAS Summit in Melbourne. The Summit provided a timely opportunity to share our experiences regulating this emerging contaminant with our interstate and overseas colleagues.

You can also read about the work we have been undertaking with Southwest Sydney Councils to combat contaminated “free” land fill being offered to unsuspecting residents across the region.

Also covered is the work we’ve done to impose a legally binding pollution reduction program to protect the Wollangambe River adjacent the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Our team on the North Coast has been busy working with partners on the Pacific Highway Upgrade to reuse tree roots and logs for stream bank rehabilitation.

Continuing on the theme of partnerships, I’m pleased to let you know that we are working closely with the Greater Sydney Commission on improving environmental outcomes through better planning across Sydney. In this edition we profile Greater Sydney Commission Environment Commissioner Rod Simpson.

We also welcome our new Director Hazardous Materials, Chemicals and Radiation Asela Atapattu. We’ve recently expanded the EPA’s online licensing system eConnect to make it easier for radiation equipment professionals across NSW to apply for their radiation licences.

Finally, I encourage you to fill out our EPA Connect Newsletter Survey so we can improve how we provide you with updates on our work across NSW. In between editions you can stay up to date by following us on our Twitter handle @EPA_NSW .

Regards
Barry

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NSW EPA takes part in national PFAS Summit

logo for the HEPA PFAS summit

The NSW EPA took part in the national PFAS* regulators summit in early April in Melbourne.

The summit, coordinated by EPA Victoria on behalf of the Heads of EPAs Australia and New Zealand (HEPA) and the Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy, provided an opportunity for regulators to share their knowledge and experience of PFAS regulation.

Keynote speeches and workshops with local and international technical experts and regulators provided a backdrop to help inform the development of a consistent approach to PFAS regulation across Australia, through a National PFAS Management Plan.

NSW EPA Executive Director Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health Sarah Gardner said the summit was particularly timely given the NSW EPA’s state-wide PFAS investigation program currently underway. 

“This is an area where the NSW Government has decided to be very cautious given this is an emerging contaminant and we are still unclear whether accumulations have any long term effects,” Mrs Gardner said.

“The national plan will help to secure good environmental practices at all PFAS contaminated sites across Australia, and help us to work together to manage any environmental and human health issues as they become known.”

You can read more about the NSW EPA’s state-wide PFAS investigation program on our website.

* Per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS). As they have heat, water and stain repelling properties, PFAS have been widely used in a range of industrial and consumer products both in Australia and internationally, including in fire retardants, water proofing, food preparation, food packaging, furnishings, shampoo, clothing and recreational equipment.

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Tracking for change - Hey Tosser! takes to the water

Minister Upton launches a bottle into the Parramatta River

From the Murrumbidgee to the Hunter, Parramatta River to Lake Illawarra, the Hey Tosser! branded bottles are being tracked and updates shared daily on social media to raise awareness about the distance litter travels.

The launch of the tracked bottles coincides with the autumn burst of the successful Hey tosser! campaign, and the anti-littering message is already spreading through posters on bus stops, signage at train stations, and through television advertisements.

We are working to a target of reducing litter by 40% by 2020 – a Premier’s priority – and are on track with litter down by 19% in the past two years. Litter is an expensive problem. Around 25,000 tonnes of litter is tossed in NSW each year, costing councils and the EPA more than $180 million to manage. But the people of NSW are on board for change – Since the Report to EPA program launched in 2015, 22,000 people across NSW have registered with Report to EPA, more than 27,000 reports have been made, and nearly 18,000 fines have been issued.

Minister Upton officially launched the tracked bottle campaign in Parramatta in late March, “tossing” a tracked bottle into the Parramatta River where it promptly flowed downstream. You can watch the Minister discuss the Hey tosser! program and the GPS tracked bottles in the Channel 9 report.

Already the stories of the bottles are beginning to take shape. Bottle #07 made its way from Green Point Park in Vaucluse to Watsons Bay, then shot out through the heads of Sydney Harbour and travelled down the coast to Cronulla, where it washed ashore and was collected by a delighted park ranger.

Other bottles are also making interesting journeys, showing that the passage of litter is determined by a number of factors including tides, wind, rain, and harbour traffic. Bottle #L08 has journeyed from Vaucluse to Taronga Zoo, bottle #L11 lodged itself on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, bottle #L40 is moving hastily down the Hawkesbury River, and bottle #L21 is traveling along Mullet Creek near Dapto.

The bottles will stay in the water until the end of April. You can track the passage of the bottles on the Hey Tosser! Facebook page. And if you find a bottle, follow the instructions printed on the side and ‘toss” it back in – we want to see how far this “litter” will travel.

Image: Minister for the Environment, Local Government and Heritage Gabrielle Upton tossing a GPS tracker bottle into the Parramatta River.

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Watch out for "Dirtbags"

Free landfill signs

If the ‘free dirt’ deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. That warning from the NSW EPA to treat offers of clean land fill carefully is resonating with renovators and landscapers in south west Sydney, with reports of contaminated soil all too frequent across the region.

The EPA and Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Wingecarribee councils issued the scam alert in February warning residents about companies and individuals offloading contaminated soil as ‘clean’ or ‘certified’ land fill - soil excavated from one site and used as a base material in building, landscaping or general fill somewhere else.

This ‘clean’ land fill is often found to contain building and demolition waste, heavy metals and even asbestos. In some cases, initial loads look clean but subsequent loads are where the problems can start.

EPA Manager Regional Waste Compliance Cate Woods said residents need to treat offers of free or cheap fill extremely carefully.

“Our investigations are showing us it’s common for dodgy operators to advertise through classified ads websites, roadside signage, letter box drops or doorknocking directly,” Ms Woods said.

“Often these people will promise their land fill is ‘guaranteed clean’ or ‘certified’ and will even offer to deliver and level the soil for free. To the untrained eye the soil may seem fine but unfortunately, this is not always the case.”

There are simple steps you can take to ensure you don’t get caught in a scam: check with your local council before accepting fill, use a reputable supplier, record delivery details, look out for odd materials in the load, and secure entry to your property.

If you or your neighbours are looking to fill in an old swimming pool, raise or level an area of land, or do any other bulk earthworks, you need to follow the “clean fill drill”.

Image: EPA

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EPA Pacific Highway team creating new wetland habitats from old tree stumps

Partner representatives with tree stump

The EPA’s Pacific Highway Upgrade team has been working closely with five of the upgrade project’s partners to re-use tree roots and logs for stream bank rehabilitation and other projects to rehabilitate and improve wetland health.

EPA Manager Regional Operations in the North Coast Region Brett Nudd, believes this type of program is among the first of its kind.

“By organising the relocation of the timber, which would have been otherwise mulched on site, we’re helping to create new habitats and bringing fish, yabbies, tortoises and other creek life back.

“This result wouldn’t be possible without the partnership with the contractors working on the Pacific Highway upgrade.

“It’s also their chance to demonstrate some social accountability for the deforestation the developments are creating by reusing materials to restore life and habitats in local wetlands.”

Last year 65 stumps and 40 timber log pins, used to secure the river banks, were installed to improve wetland health in the Everlasting Swamp National Park.

Over the next year it’s expected that this can grow to 510 tree roots or root balls and 800 timber pins in other wetland areas.

Image: Partners in the Root ball Strategy. (L-R) Brenden Baily (Environment Advisor, Pacific Complete), Stuart Murphy (Operations Officer, Environment Protection Authority) and John Bruun (Environment Manager, Seymour Whyte Contractors)

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New conditions protect the Wollangambe River and Blue Mountains World Heritage

Colo River

The EPA has imposed strict new limits on the environment protection licence for the Clarence Colliery to improve water quality in the Wollangambe River, which runs into the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

EPA Regional Director for South and West Gary Whytcross said the revised licence was a major step forward in improving the river’s health. 

“The EPA is committed to improving the quality of Clarence Colliery’s water discharge so that it matches the sensitive ecology of the nearby Blue Mountains World Heritage Area,” Mr Whytcross said.

“In making these changes we have worked closely with local community groups, researchers and other agencies to help protect the Wollangambe River for future generations.”

“We will continue to engage with all of our partners as we monitor the recovery of the river.”

The Pollution Reduction Program, which has been developed over the past year, sets stringent new limits for Clarence Colliery on 13 metals, including zinc and nickel, using Australian and New Zealand national standards and water quality guidelines as a benchmark.

The new limits were recommended by the Office of Environment and Heritage following a comprehensive report to the EPA on the condition of the Wollangambe River.

University of Western Sydney Senior Lecturer in Natural Science Dr Ian Wright, who has been part of the discussions, spoke of the positive changes with ABC Radio Central West in March. “This action is a fantastic step. To me it’s a roadmap to recovery for the river.”

Environment group The Colong Foundation’s Keith Muir told ABC Radio Sydney in March that restoring the river will have immense benefits. “An entire river will be restored to health. To a pristine state.”

The EPA will also be issuing Clarence Colliery with another legally-binding pollution reduction program in the coming months that will focus on reducing the salinity levels discharged into the river, Mr Whytcross said. The EPA has advised the company that it must keep salinity below 100 EC (electrical conductivity).

Separately, in May 2016, the EPA commenced a prosecution in the Land and Environment Court against Clarence Colliery, alleging a Tier 1 offence relating to the discharge of coal fines from the Colliery, near Lithgow in 2015. The case is next due in court on 8 May 2017.

Tier 1 offences are the most serious under the Protection of Environment Operations Act 1997 and come with a maximum penalty of $5,000,000 for a corporation.

Image: Colo River – downstream from the Wollangambe River in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. Copyright Simone Cottrell.

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Helping a small community when their water supply was affected by a petrol leak

Headline Woolomin Gold Rush store

A leak from an underground fuel tank at the local store into the town’s groundwater supply in February last year has meant residents in the small community of Woolomin, north of Tamworth, have had to make significant changes to their home water use.

This has been very difficult for the small community of just 200, who want to support the local store owners and see them get back to business at some stage in the near future.

Tamworth Council and the EPA have been in regular contact with residents about the extent of the contamination, keeping them up to date with investigation work underway by EPA officers and consultants GHD, discussing test results and the status of their local household bores.

The EPA, through an Environmental Trust Grant, is funding the investigation. While the final report is still being prepared by consultants GHD, initial results show the contamination has only impacted bores in the immediate vicinity of the General Store.

With such a close knit community, the EPA has held to its commitment to continue regular engagement with residents, ensuring they are kept informed and up to date. The efforts have been well received with the general store owners commenting to local media in March that it had been “reassuring” to have the EPA’s support throughout the contamination issue.

Woolomin Gold Rush store owner Shane Douglas was quoted in the Northern Daily Leader as saying “It probably might be 10 years before the water will actually be back to normal”.

“The people don’t understand because they love bashing the council and the EPA, anything government they love bashing. And I say, no, they’re doing all they can.

“The EPA just want to get everyone back to having a life.”

The EPA will be back in touch with residents to talk through any required actions once we receive the full draft report from the investigation.

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You can now manage your EPA radiation user licence online

CT scanner

If you’re one of 14,500 professionals in NSW who operate radiation equipment, including dentists, GPs, scientists and vets, you can now renew and manage your licence online through the EPA’s eConnect portal.

The portal, which launched last year for other licences, is also available if you are applying for a Radiation User Licence for the first time.

EPA Director Hazardous Materials, Chemicals and Radiation Asela Atapattu said that the EPA was responding to feedback.

“We know that time and efficiency are some of the most valuable things for a business,” Mr Atapattu said.

“We’re really pleased to be rolling out this service so that our licensees can manage their EPA activities more conveniently, at a time, place and on a device of their choosing.

“If you’re one of the thousands of dentists, GPs, nurses, scientists, vets or lecturers who require a radiation licence for your work, using eConnect will significantly reduce the amount of time and paper involved for you to meet your obligations.”

Annual reporting required from Environment Protection Licence holders as well as new licence applications can already be submitted through this service. The EPA will continue to roll out eConnect to more licensees in the coming months. More information about Radiation User Licences is available at the EPA website.

eConnect EPA can be accessed via the EPA website. Feedback on eConnect EPA will be vital in continuously improving the service and can be shared by emailing eConnect.EPA@epa.nsw.gov.au.

Image: EPA

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Nominations for the 2017 Green Globe Awards open soon

2016 Green Globe Award winners

The Green Globe Awards celebrate excellence in environmental sustainability, showcasing businesses, community groups and individuals who are leading the way in building a cleaner and greener NSW.

The awards are open to all NSW small and large businesses, individuals, not-for-profit organisations, state and local government agencies who demonstrate commitment to, and excellence in, environmental sustainability. Last year’s finalists included Australia’s first carbon neutral university, a bank investing in a green future and grassroots environmental closed loop initiatives.

If you’re working towards a more sustainable NSW, make 2017 your year to win. Nominations are open 9 May - 27 June. Don’t miss out.

For more information and to receive the e-news go to environment.nsw.gov.au/greenglobes, or email the Green Globes team green.globes@environment.nsw.gov.au. The awards are run by the Office of Environment and Heritage.

Image: Former Minister for the Environment Mark Speakman with 2016 Green Globe Award Best of the Best Winners.

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The EPA Connect Newsletter is changing - have your say

post it notes

The EPA Connect Newsletter is your regular way of keeping in touch with what’s happening across the NSW EPA and our stakeholders have told us they enjoy receiving it. Over the next few months we will be looking at how we can improve the stories and topics we bring to you and ensure they continue to be interesting and relevant.

Your views and opinions are important to us, so please have your say by taking a few minutes to answer some questions about your interests and what you’d like to most to hear about.

  

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Stakeholder profile

Roderick Simpson

Environment Commissioner and EPA working across Sydney’s ‘three cities’

Rod Simpson describes Sydney as not one, but three cities. "In Sydney, there’s the existing city, the emerging city and the future city."  

“Looking at the metropolitan area through the lens of water, in the east we can see the beaches and the extraordinary amenity of the 'harbour city', in the centre we can see the river city around Parramatta that could focus on the restoration and recovery of waterways, and the parkland city in the west with the potential to create intentional, designed landscapes.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is develop new narratives and ways of describing the city to engage people with what’s possible, and capture the public’s imagination,” Mr Simpson explains.

As Environment Commissioner for the Greater Sydney Commission, Mr Simpson has been appointed by the NSW Government to have principal responsibility for the activities of the Commission relating to environmental matters. 

Mr Simpson has been an environment campaigner and community activist, landscape architect, government consultant, planner and architect. This means he considers environmental issues from the many perspectives of the community, government, developers, academics and interest groups. 

Mr Simpson and the Commission are already working with the EPA on exploring the ways existing legislation can be used to improve environmental outcomes.

“The EPA is interested in working with us across a range of issues – air quality, water quality and waste and the circular economy,” he said.

“We’re all interested in taking a strategic approach to avoid future problems. To do this we look at how existing pieces of legislation can be drawn together – regulation, land use planning and community strategic plans. We’re about to investigate the appropriateness and applicability of a Protection of the Environment Policy to protect and improve the South Creek catchment, in western Sydney.” 

Mr Simpson said the Commission’s draft District Plans put a strong emphasis on design-led, place-based planning to encourage collaboration across government agencies and local government.

"The way we’ve dealt with complexity in the past is to break into silos. The problem with that is then we don’t look at identifying synergies," Mr Simpson explains.

“Those synergies become apparent locally. For example, with local industrial ecology precincts thinking about plans that include self-buffering precincts. These opportunities are only available if all agencies are in the room and part of the discussion.”

Mr Simpson’s varied experience includes working with the Total Environment Centre on the strategy for the restoration of Cooks River and the Sydney Olympics working on the Green Games Concept with Greenpeace. While in State Government he helped develop BASIX, a mandated tool measuring water and energy efficiency. He was also the Urban Design Manager at the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust which manages and preserves major Federal Government-owned lands.

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Staff profile

Asela Atapattu

EPA welcomes Asela Atapattu Director Hazardous Materials, Chemicals and Radiation

At the start of February Asela Atapattu joined the NSW Environment Protection Authority as Director Hazardous Materials, Chemicals and Radiation.

“My team’s work covers the safe transfer of dangerous goods, safe disposal of hazardous waste, keeping people safe from unnecessary radiation exposure and managing industrial chemicals and pesticides safely,” Mr Atapattu said.

A trained biochemist, Mr Atapattu has worked across risk assessment in various roles. Prior to joining EPA he was with the New Zealand EPA in Wellington leading a team that prepared risk assessments for chemicals, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and plant and animal imports.

Prior to NZEPA, Mr Atapattu worked in developing GMOs for pest management. “A group of us had started a company that was looking for innovative, chemical free, solutions for pest management, but we were impacted by the introduction of New Zealand’s tough GMO rules following the Royal Commission in 2000.”

Mr Atapattu was attracted to work at the NSW EPA for its enforcement capability and role as an environment leader and protector.

“The EPA ensures that the rules are followed and that the community and our environment are protected. We are a proactive regulator that works to deal with issues before they happen.

“I was particularly attracted to the EPA’s commitment to chemical and radiation regulation. The EPA does what it says it is going to do.”

Into the future, Mr Atapattu sees the EPA’s role being even more proactive.

“I think it’s about doing more with what we have. We need to continue being transparent, predictable and science based – it’s about our community, our environment and our economy.”

Away from work, Mr Atapattu enjoys spending his spare time with family, including supporting his son’s junior cricket team.

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EPA's regulatory action

The EPA has many regulatory tools it uses to achieve environmental compliance. The following table provides a tally of the regulatory actions undertaken by the EPA across the state from 1 January to 31 March 2017.

  REGULATORY ACTION

TOTAL

  Inspections undertaken

556  

  Prevention Notices issued

14  

  Clean Up Actions issued

30  

  Penalty Notices issued

73  

  Smokey Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

22 

  Noisy Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

35 

  Infringement Notice for Littering from a motor vehicle issued

2641 

  Environmental Programs

  •   Environmental Improvement Programs commenced 

3  

  •   Pollution Reduction Programs commenced

21  

  •   Other Environmental Programs commenced

11  

  Environmental programs total worth

$26,153,000  

  Prosecutions

  Prosecutions commenced

21  

  Prosecutions completed

19  

  Total financial penalties imposed

$410,200  

 

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Page last updated: 10 May 2017