Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Autumn - April 2016

From the CEO

Barry Buffier, Chair and Chief Executive, NSW Environment Protection Authority

Welcome to the first edition of EPA Connect for 2016. It's been a busy first few months, as you'll see from our stories below. 

We recently released our ninth State of the Environment Report. This report provides a snapshot of the environment in NSW and highlights the achievements and challenges we face. 

In February we also launched a State-wide PFC investigation program. As an emerging contaminant, we do not fully understand PFCs and how they affect our health and the environment but we think it's important to understand where they exist across NSW. As such, the investigation will focus on sites where they may have been used in large quantities, including airports, firefighting training facilities and some industrial sites, and where it is determined there are exposure pathways that may increase people’s contact with the chemicals, such as bore water usage, surface water usage or fishing sites.

You can also read about the important role the EPA will play in rehabilitating coal seam gas sites, how we are working with the Williamtown community and the work that's being done to clean up the Parramatta River. We also profile a joint project with Pacific National who partnered with the EPA at the end of last year to undertake a study into reducing emission from non-road diesel engines.

Finally, don't forget to tell us how you use our website by completing the survey on the homepage. Redesigning our website is the first of many improvements you'll see over the coming year. 

Regards, 

Barry Buffier

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NSW fares well in the ninth State of the Environment report

State of the Environment Report

On Saturday 19 March, Environment Minister Mark Speakman, released the State of the Environment Report.

The report, compiled every three years, provides a point-in-time snapshot of the NSW environment across 20 themes and also looks at 65 indicators of environmental health.

This year’s report shows that our state is either holding the line or making headway on many environmental issues, despite a growing population. These include air quality, urban water quality, public transport use, management of protected areas and conservation on private land, beach water quality, and sustainable land management.

“The report demonstrates some important achievements, including further improvements in our recycling rates, reductions in littering and increases in renewable energy production,” said Barry Buffier, Chair and CEO of the NSW EPA.

“Of course, with a rapidly growing population, it’s inevitable that we are going to face challenges along the way, but we, the government and the community are stepping up to the plate.”

Other environmental challenges that are facing NSW today include threats to native species and the impact on waterbirds and inland rivers from drier weather conditions.

To explore the report in full, visit the State of the Environment page on the EPA's website.

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NSW government investigation into historical legacy of PFC use across the state

Fire fighting foam being used by two firefighters to extinguish flames from a car.

On 19 February 2016, the NSW EPA announced a state-wide investigation into the historical legacy of perfluorinated compounds (PFC) use, and is working with other NSW agencies to investigate their persistence.

PFCs are a group of chemicals that have been widely used in a range of products in Australia and internationally, most commonly, firefighting foam. Because of their unique physical and chemical properties, including heat and chemical resistance, they have also been widely used in every-day and speciality products including textiles and leather products; metal plating; food packaging; floor polishes; shampoos; medical devices; and hydraulic fluids.

Although international research has not confirmed whether there are any adverse human health effects related to PFC exposure, the EPA is using these investigations to better understand the extent of PFC use and contamination in NSW pending further information coming to hand about the health and environmental impacts. 

The EPA recognises that PFCs are ubiquitous in the global environment in low concentrations, due to their use in a wide range of products and their persistent nature. As a result, the EPA is investigating sites where the greatest usage of PFC containing products has taken place, including airports, firefighting training facilities and some industrial sites, and where it is determined there are exposure pathways that may increase people’s contact with the chemicals, such as bore water usage, surface water usage or fishing sites.

The EPA will work with occupiers and owners of sites to collect samples of soils and/or waters for indicative analysis for PFCs, and to identify potential exposure pathways. The initial investigation program is expected to take around six months to complete.

If significant PFC concentrations levels are detected at a specific location and exposure pathways are identified, a more detailed assessment will be undertaken and if required then clean-up will follow.

For more information about the investigation program, visit the PFC Investigation Program on the EPA's website. You can also access precautionary health advice on PFC’s from the Australian Environmental Health Standing Committee by visiting the Department of Health's website.

 

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Rehabilitation at AGL Gloucester

Air monitoring Gloucester

On 4 February 2016 AGL announced that it will not proceed with the Gloucester Gas Project and that it will cease production at the Camden Gas Project in South West Sydney in 2023. As the lead regulator for coal seam gas activities in NSW, it is the EPA's responsibility to ensure standards for rehabilitation are complied with.

 Director of Gas Regulation Carmen Dwyer spoke with ABC Rural on 10 February 2016 to outline the process for rehabilitation at AGL Gloucester.

"We want to work with the community to ensure they have all the information they need to feel that the activity of rehabilitation is being undertaken properly," Carmen Dwyer said.

“To do that we're doing all sorts of things including attending meetings, preparing fact sheets, and most importantly our staff are available to talk to anyone in the community about any of the concerns they have about rehabilitation,” she said.

AGL must meet strict environmental rehabilitation standards to meet the expectations of government. These standards have to be met before a company can have its security bond returned.

"It includes things like ensuring that wells are plugged and abandoned to a stipulated standard, to ensure that not only the land and wells and any infrastructure is returned to a standard, but during the rehabilitation that the activity of rehabilitating doesn't cause any environmental issues,” Ms Dwyer explained to ABC Rural.

"But rehabilitation does require an element of agreement…so affected landholders will absolutely be engaged as part of the rehabilitation process, as will the broader community,” she said.

The next key step is for AGL to submit a rehabilitation plan to the NSW Government.

"We'll have a look at the rehabilitation plan, along with the experts from the Division of Resources and Energy, and we will set further conditions about whether that plan meets the Government's expectations," she said.

"Then depending on the time frame of those particular works and when they're set out and what the risk of each of those works are, we'll have inspectors available to attend at the appropriate activities."

If you have any questions about the process of gas site rehabilitation please contact the Environment Line 131 555 to talk to a member of the EPA’s gas team.

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Williamtown update

Water testing

Over the past seven months the NSW Environment Protection Authority has worked collaboratively with the Williamtown community, NSW Health, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Hunter Water Corporation and the Department of Primary Industries to manage the investigation of PFC contamination originating from the Williamtown RAAF Base.

A Williamtown Community Reference Group (CRG) was established to provide a meaningful two way dialogue between the community and government agencies. Amongst the group’s achievements was a meeting with the Premier in December 2015 which helped secure further funding for the region. This funding is being used to:

  • Connect affected developed properties using bore and tank water to reticulated water
  • Invest in new contamination testing equipment
  • Employ an EPA community liaison officer to provide additional support for the local community
  • Provide an outreach mental health service for the local community

 The group has hosted a number of drop in sessions to give the community greater access to Department of Defence and NSW government officials. The CRG is now working to secure financial and personal support for the community, including to fishing families affected by the precautionary restrictions on commercial fishing.

“CRGs, like the one in Williamtown, provide a vital link to affected residents and businesses, and enable the EPA to be more responsive to the needs of the community,” said Adam Gilligan, EPA Manager Hunter Region and member of the Williamtown CRG.

 “The Williamtown CRG is not only about us sharing information with the community – it’s also an opportunity for us to hear about community concerns and work to address these collaboratively,” he continued.

“We are pleased with the group’s progress and are dedicated to its continuing success.”

In other news, the Department of Defence is undertaking an extensive sampling program to comprehensively identify and test the variety of produce that people in the affected area consume. This will then inform the broader human health risk assessment and help the development of guidelines around safe consumption levels. The precautionary fishing and dietary bans will be reviewed and adjusted pending the outcome of the human health risk assessment, expected in mid-2016.

For more information on the Williamtown PFC issue, including fact sheets, updates and a map of the affected area, visit the Williamtown page on the EPA's website.

To access the dedicated mental health service, community members can call 0417 494 576 between 8am and 4pm Monday to Friday, or 1800 011 511 after hours.

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The EPA is helping to make the Parramatta River swimmable by 2025

Parramatta River - early part of the 1900's. (Image: State Records of NSW)

Until the early part of the 1900’s, the Parramatta River was a hive of social activity for locals enjoying a dip on a hot day, participating in swimming carnivals, picnicking on the river’s banks, and making the most of the closest fresh waterway. Unfortunately, the legacy of pollution from many industrial sites along the river, and decades of poor water management, has meant that the river west of Cabarita became un-swimmable.

Annette Douglas remembers swimming in the Parramatta River when she was a kid.

“It was 1954 and we used to have a mile of fun,” she says.

Last year Lake Parramatta re-opened for swimming, for the first time in 72 years, and now attention is firmly on making the whole river swimmable by 2025.

The Our Living River initiative was established by the Parramatta River Catchment Group (PRCG) in 2014, with an alliance of 13 local councils, 3 state government agencies and several community groups spearheading the initiative.

The NSW EPA joined the initiative last year and on Thursday 18 February 2016, Chair and CEO Barry Buffier formalised the partnership by signing of a statement of joint intent.

“We share the same goal; to maintain clean, unpolluted waterways. The EPA looks forward to helping develop compliance, monitoring and reporting systems that improve the Parramatta River’s water quality,” Greg Sheehy, a/Director, Metropolitan Branch said.

A clean and healthy Parramatta River means greater biodiversity and better air quality, where people, fish and other animals can thrive.

Recent sightings of dolphins, seals and penguins in the river have piqued community interest, as has the Our Living River campaign.

The campaign encourages members of the public to vote for their preferred swimming spot along the river, to help inform which sites the PRCG will focus on making swimmable again.

A handful of pilot sites will soon be selected for the commencement of water quality monitoring; the first step to make a location swimmable again.

For more information about the initiative and to vote for your preferred swimming spot, visit the Our Living River website.

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Help redesign our website

Brainstorming

As we kick-off redesigning our website, your insights are critical to delivering a final product that’s simple and easy to use.

If you’ve visited the EPA website over the last week, you might have noticed an invitation pop up asking you to complete a short-survey about why you use our website and what you’d like to see change.

“We’re keen to understand why people visit the EPA’s website and what they are looking for,’ said Kate Gilroy, Manager of the EPA’s Digital Design and Production Team.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that website re-design is all about improving the look of a website,” Gilroy continued.

“That will certainly be part of the end result, but for me, first and foremost this project is about creating a better experience for visitors and making it easier for them to easily find what they are looking for.”

The survey will remain available over the next few weeks, after which, the results will be collated and fed into the design process. If you’d like to continue to assist us with feedback throughout the web design process, email digital.feedback@epa.nsw.gov.au.

Stay tuned to future editions of this Newsletter for updates on this and other improvement projects.

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Stakeholder project profile

Locomotive

Clearing the air on locomotive emissions with Pacific National

Finding ways to reduce diesel emissions, noise and improve fuel efficiency is a priority for national freight carrier Pacific National, which was why the company decided to partner with the EPA last year, and participate in a pilot study looking into locomotive emission reduction technology.

Taken together, the emissions from non-road diesel engines, including locomotives are significant sources of fine particle pollution in NSW, but unlike many other sources, emissions from locomotives and other non-road equipment are not currently regulated in Australia.

 The project was the first time the EPA had partnered with an industry operator like Pacific National to carry out this kind of environmental study.

The company’s Senior Environmental Specialist, Robyn Simpson said the project provided an opportunity to learn about the latest technology available, as well as help gather scientifically sound data that built on the maintenance and environmental improvement programs the company already has in place.

“There was real scientific rigour behind this project, particularly with the test protocol and the way the data was analysed. It was the kind of thing we never would have been able to achieve on our own,” Ms Simpson said.

The aim of the locomotive project was to assess the impacts of retrofitting older diesel locomotives with emission upgrade kits by comparing emission levels, noise and fuel consumption of engines rebuilt to previous standards, with engines upgraded with emission kits.

The findings showed a substantial reduction of 60 to 65 per cent in fine particle emissions from the engines upgraded with emission kits. Noise emissions were mostly unaffected. Fuel consumption increased with the upgraded engines.

“I think both parties got a lot out of the project, and I would definitely encourage other industries to participate in these kinds of studies in the future. It’s was a great opportunity to show EPA key parts of our business.”

The EPA expects to propose emission requirements for diesel locomotives later in 2016 following further research and analysis.

For more information visit the Reducing locomotive emmissions page on the EPA's website.

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EPA Staff Profile

Helen Davies receives the Spokeswoman's Program, Woman of the Year award 2016 from Gary Davey, Director, North Branch

Helen Davies

The work EPA Senior Project Officer Helen Davies has been doing to mentor younger employees was officially recognised earlier this month when she received the Spokeswoman’s Program, Woman of the Year award at this year’s OEH and EPA International Women’s Day event.

Held every year the awards are an opportunity for both organisations to recognise the efforts of staff working to achieve equality in the workplace.

Helen is a positive role model and example of the high standard of work that can be achieved under a flexible working arrangement.

Predominately aimed at helping young graduates, working in regulation, contamination and remediation build their skills and knowledge, the mentoring programs are also designed to help young people achieve a healthy work-life balance.

“Part time work was not available in the early days of my working life and now that I do work part time I appreciate it so much, it allows a balance in work and life and gives me time to explore my other interests, ,” Mrs Davies said.

“After more than 50 years in the public service I can truly say that my current work arrangements within the EPA’s contaminated sites team are the best I have ever had and I hope that my performance reflects my appreciation.”

Originally from Wales, Helen began her career working in agricultural research within the Scottish public service before moving to Sydney in 1972 where she worked for the NSW Health and Agriculture departments, including what is now known as the NSW Food Authority. She joined the NSW EPA in 1992 and has worked on and off ever since

Between 2008 and 2013 Helen worked for the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority where she developed a passion for education and working with aboriginal children and women in remote communities

“Living and working in these communities I became very interested in how we might advance, recognise and market the artworks these women produced, and how this in turn could support the education facilities and opportunities available to children.”

While retirement will soon be on the horizon for Helen, she has no plans to stop her mentoring or education endeavours.

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EPA Regulatory Action

EPA Regulation Report

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 December 2015 to February 2016.

Regulatory Action for the period December 2015- February 2016

REGULATORY ACTION

TOTAL

Inspections undertaken

423 (includes ‘draft’ records so numbers will change slightly over time)

Prevention Notices issued

5

Clean Up Actions issued

27

Penalty Notices issued

62

Dangerous Goods = 6

Pesticides = 5

POEO = 50

Radiation = 1

Smokey Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

33

Noisy Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

15

Infringement Notice for Littering from a motor vehicle issued

2209

Environmental Programs

43

Environmental Improvement Programs commenced

4

Pollution Reduction Programs commenced

27

Other Environmental Programs commenced

12

Total worth

$15,518,000.00

Prosecutions

3

Prosecutions commenced

18

Prosecutions completed

3

Total financial penalties imposed

$250

Enforceable Undertakings (EU)

Number of EU's imposed

0

Total worth

0

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Page last updated: 07 April 2016