Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Issue 3 - September 2015

From the CEO

EPA CEO Barry Buffier AM

Welcome to the September edition of our EPA Connect Newsletter.

The arrival of Spring not only means warmer weather but the challenge of allergies for many of us too. Keep an eye on the Air Quality Index via our website where air quality data are updated hourly for Sydney and many parts of NSW. 

In this edition we share some of the key activities and important issues for the EPA over the last few months. Be sure to also take a look at our award winning air quality video here.

The EPA is committed to communicating directly and promptly to our stakeholders and the wider community to ensure you are kept informed of our activities.

I encourage you to connect with us on Twitter @NSW_EPA for regular updates and alerts. Please also connect with us on Linkedin where our organisation page is the 'NSW Environment Protection Authority.'

Looking ahead to the end of 2015 and beyond we will continue to work diligently towards our vision of a healthy environment, healthy community and healthy business. 

  • Contamination around Williamtown RAAF base

Environment Minister, Mark Speakman, announced two reviews last week following the Williamtown RAAF base contamination. One review will advise Government on the planned and ongoing management of the Williamtown contamination while the second review will consider the EPA’s implementation of the findings of the Auditor-General’s 2014 report into managing contaminated sites.

The EPA is working closely with the Department of Defence as well as NSW Health, the Department of Primary Industries, NSW Food Authority and Hunter Water to assess and confirm the nature of any potential risk of the contamination and to develop an appropriate response.

Further details of the EPA’s involvement and actions are outlined in the first story below.  I would like to encourage anyone with any concerns regarding this contamination to contact us via the Environment Line on 131 555.

  • Strategic Plan

The EPA Strategic Plan 2015-2018 is a three year plan, updated annually and it was reviewed by the board in July. The 2015 Review identifies the priorities of the EPA following input from the NSW Minister for the Environment, the EPA staff and the EPA executive.

The priorities for the 2015-18 Strategic Plan are:

  • Implementation of NSW Gas Plan
  • Introduction of a Container Deposit Scheme in 2017
  • Regulation of shipping emissions from cruise ships in NSW ports
  • Implementation of a revised National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) measure
  • Reducing the backlog in the assessment of contaminated sites
  • Further development of economic incentives in environmental regulation
  • Transfer of urban pest functions from WorkCover to the EPA

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Contamination around Williamtown RAAF Base

Williamtown Community Forum held on 16 September.

The NSW Government is assessing the extent of legacy fire-fighting chemicals that have been identified in some surface water, groundwaters and in small numbers of fish around the Williamtown RAAF Base and Newcastle Airport.

The EPA is working with the Department of Defence as well as a range of NSW Government agencies to asses the situation including NSW Health, the Department of Primary Industries, NSW Food Authority and Hunter Water.

An Expert Panel, to be led by the NSW Chief Scientist, Professor Mary O’Kane, has been established by the NSW Government and will provide further advice on potential human health and environmental impacts, as well as possible remediation actions.

The chemicals perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are substances that were historically used in fire-fighting foams and were used at RAAF Williamtown in fire-fighting training and operations.

Whether PFOS or PFOA cause adverse health effects in humans is presently unknown, but the potential for adverse health effects cannot be excluded. The NSW Government is taking a precautionary approach to assess the nature of any potential risk and develop an appropriate response.

While the risk to human health is considered to be low, the NSW Government has advised potentially impacted residents of Williamtown to not drink bore water, not eat fish caught in the nearby area or eggs from backyard chickens, or milk from cows and goats that have been drinking bore water in the area.

On Wednesday 16 September the Department of Defence held a community meeting to address concerns of contamination around the Williamtown RAAF base. The EPA, along with representatives from other government agencies, attended and addressed the meeting.

For more information, including fact sheets and a map of the affected area, please visit our EPA Community News page here.

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EPA Investigates Major Incident at Clarence Colliery

Sampling water from the Wollangambe river for independent testing

The EPA is currently investigating a major spill from a coal reject stockpile at Centennial Coal’s Clarence Colliery near Lithgow.

The incident occurred on the 2 July 2015 and resulted in many tonnes of coal fines and course reject material spilling from the mine and dispersing down the hillside and into the Wollangambe River, up to eight kilometres downstream of the spill site.

“The immediate focus of the EPA’s investigation has been on containing and cleaning up the spill to minimise impact on the environment,” said EPA Director South Gary Whytcross.

 “The EPA issued a Clean-up Notice to the company on 3 July 2015 which outlined the requirements for the clean-up of the environment.

 “The first step the EPA required of the company was to install 22 silt fences between the mine and the river to contain the material and prevent any further impact to the river.

 “Coal fines from the drainage line between the mine and the river have been removed and the clean-up of the material on the hillside is also complete.”

 Gary Whytcross advised that the EPA has worked closely with the Office of Environment and Heritage and National Parks and Wildlife Service to inspect the impact to the river and determine the best approach to removing the coal fines from the river.

 “I would also like to thank bushwalkers who used local knowledge to locate and report on coal fines in sections of the Wollangambe River that are very difficult to access.

 “On 18 August 2015 the EPA issued a second Clean-up Notice to Centennial Coal outlining the methods for clean-up of the river to ensure minimal risk to the aquatic and riverine environment.

 “The clean-up of the river is progressing. The company is required to continue cleaning the river until the EPA is satisfied. In-stream barriers are in place to limit any downstream movement of the coal fines in the river.

 “The EPA has required the company to provide weekly reports and has been undertaking regular inspections.”

The EPA is also undertaking a thorough legal investigation into the incident to determine the circumstances surrounding the cause and any breaches of environmental legislation.

 A copy of Centennial Coal’s Environment Protection Licence (726) for the Clarence Colliery, including a copy of the clean-up notice’s issued are available on the EPA website: POEO Public Register search

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Expanded Waste Licensing & Levy System to Tackle Illegal Dumping

New waste licensing systems will improve processing facilities for products such as tyres.

New waste licensing and levy systems are now in place in NSW after POEO (Waste) Regulation changes came in to effect on 1 August 2015.

 

EPA Director Waste and Resource Recovery Steve Beaman said the changes will strengthen the EPA’s regulatory oversight of the waste industry and help to prevent illegal dumping.

“Licensing thresholds for waste processing facilities, including for tyres, have been lowered to level the playing the field and ensure that smaller facilities are operating lawfully and in accordance with EPA expectations.

“In addition, a waste levy liability now applies at most licensed recycling facilities that is extinguished when the waste leaves the site for lawful use or disposal.

“Under this new provision operators who process their waste in a timely way and to a legal facility will not face any additional levy charge.

“The levy liability will only convert to a payment if waste is stockpiled for longer than 12 months, stockpiled above authorised amounts or not forwarded on to a legal facility.

“These measures will help to ensure that waste is legitimately moved on to its end use in a timely way and not left in endless stockpiles or illegally dumped.”

Information about the changes, including fact sheets and an animation, as well as the updated Waste Levy Guidelines are available on the EPA website here.

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MOU on the Regulation of Gas Activities in NSW

An EPA staff member inspecting a facility in the NSW Central West

On 1 July 2015 the EPA took over full responsibility for monitoring and enforcing compliance with conditions of approval for all gas activities in NSW, including those conditions issued by other agencies but excluding work health and safety matters.

Legislation to formalise the EPA’s new role is expected to be in place at the end of this year. In the interim the NSW Government has developed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the regulation of gas activities in NSW.

The MOU sets out how the key government agencies will work together so that the EPA can perform its new role effectively and in a seamless way,” said EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier.

“It provides greater clarity for the community and industry about the roles and responsibilities of government agencies in regulating gas activities in NSW.

“The NSW Government is committed to effective, transparent and efficient regulation of gas activities and this MOU will help to achieve that.”

Mr Buffier said the NSW Government has provided the necessary authorisations for the EPA to enforce conditions of operations until the legislation formalising the EPA’s new role is in place.

“The EPA will provide strong independent oversight of gas activities and ensure a consistent approach to compliance and enforcement.”

The MOU will be reviewed at the end of the year once the new legislation comes into effect.

The EPA’s new lead compliance and enforcement role is a key deliverable of the NSW Gas Plan.

The EPA has a 24 hour hotline to report potential breaches and pollution incidents. People can call 131 555.

The MOU is available on the EPA website here.

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Award Winning EPA Air Quality Video

This animation explains air pollution in the Sydney Basin

A little air quality video created by The Magnificent Itch for the EPA is making a big splash in animation circles. 

The short animation, simply titled Air Pollution, explains the complex workings of air pollution in the Sydney Basin by describing the key sources of particle and ozone pollution, and how geography and weather influence the concentration and dispersion of air pollution.

The NSW EPA website already has detailed information about sources of air pollution, including the NSW Air Emission Inventory and the Air Emissions in My Community web tool, which provides the general public with access to detailed information. But air pollution in Sydney is complex, and the EPA decided that the visual expression of air quality in Sydney may be the best approach to give a sense of how it operates.

To date the award has won a bronze medal at the The Australian Effects and Animation Festival awards, come runner up at the Footprint Eco film festival and been accepted into the KLIK Amsterdam Animation Festival and the Animago Festival in Germany.

This is a little animation with a big message. We are pleased to see it getting the attention it deserves. Please take a look here!

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EPA Staff Interview - Dr Richard Whyte

EPA Manager Richard Whyte at work in Armidale

Since the EPA’s formation in 1992, Richard Whyte has been a dedicated staff member and is the EPA's Regional Manager for the Central West, based in Bathurst.  

With a background in wildlife ecology, Richard’s love for the environment developed as a child in Muswellbrook in the 1960s, exploring the bush of his local area and the Hunter River.  As a young child his father gave him a duck that he had won in his town's local lottery. Richard was fascinated by the bird and believes from then on a life of appreciating nature and a dedication the environment was sealed.

“The Central West region of NSW has seen significant growth in the coal mining industry over recent years, keeping the EPA busy managing the potential environmental impact on the region”, said Richard.   

The recent Clarence Colliery incident was a particularly unique challenge, given the involvement of a declared wild river inside a National Park and World Heritage Area.

“As with any environmental incident, the community expects a strong response from the EPA, but we have to be very careful when responding to incidents in sensitive areas,” explained Richard.

“This clean up has been implemented following the trialling of the most environmentally sensitive methods to remove accumulated deposits of coal fines.”

Up to eight kilometres of river has been affected by the incident with more than 35 tonnes of coal fines removed from the river, as of the end of August.

 “The EPA is continuing to work closely with OEH and National Parks to ensure no further environmental stress was placed on the Wollangambe River and the region,” said Richard.

Richard has witnessed enormous changes over the 25 years he has worked for the EPA.

“Information technology has brought considerable benefits to the sector but continues to challenge us to perform at pace while still paying attention to best practice,” said Richard.   

“Keeping up with the growing expectations of the community and the endless disruptions from technology, makes the modern work environment very complex.”

Richard plans to retire in the coming years but will continue following his passions. He’s also looking forward to more time for travelling to historical sites, birdwatching and cheering on the Australian Cricket Team.   

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EPA Stakeholder Profile - Dr Ian Wright

Dr Ian Wright addressing his students at UWS.

As a Lecturer at UWS, Dr Ian Wright is instructing the next generation of environment students in the vital areas of water quality and management.

Ian has a particular interest in freshwater ecology, pollution and urban water management and previously worked for Sydney Water, analysing the impact of human activities on the creeks and rivers of the Sydney Basin.

Early in his career Ian studied agriculture that saw him working on a cotton farm in Western NSW. His experiences there piqued his interest in water management and he returned to university to specialise in this field.

Last year, along with honours student Nakia Belmer, Ian conducted research on the potential impact of water discharge from the Clarence Colliery on the Wollangambe River in the Blue Mountains.

“We discovered some concerning data and sent it to the EPA for further investigation”, said Ian.

“It was pleasing that the EPA took this information seriously and launched their own investigation that ultimately led to more stringent licensing conditions for Clarence Colliery.”

Ian has continued to monitor the river following the July coal fine spill and observes that recovery efforts are proceeding well.

 “Anecdotally, major damage to the ecosystem seems to have been avoided.”

“However, my students and I will keep returning to the area for testing and be alerting the EPA to any changes in the ecosystem we observe.”

In years gone by, Ian remembers the EPA not being so receptive to environmental research conducted by external parties but now feels the EPA is significantly more open to community input.

With a constantly evolving natural and regulatory environment, Ian believes research such as his, often funded with the support of community groups, can play an important role in bolstering the health of our ecosystem.

“We need everyone in NSW to share the responsibility for protecting the environment and to continue alerting organisations such as the EPA to any environmental concerns.”

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Regulation Reporting

Click here to view updated quarterly reports.

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 July to September 2015.

July – September 2015

REGULATORY ACTION

TOTAL

Inspections undertaken

503

Prevention Notices issued

8

Clean Up Actions issued

19

Penalty Notices issued

39

Smokey Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

18

Noisy Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

39

Infringement Notice for Littering from a motor vehicle issued

2132

Environmental Programs

 

Environmental Improvement Programs commenced

0

Pollution Reduction Programs commenced

20

Other Environmental  Programs commenced

4

Total worth

$30,803,000 approx

Prosecutions

 

Prosecutions commenced

11

Prosecutions completed

14

Total financial penalties imposed

$97,540

Enforceable Undertakings (EU)

 

Number of EU’s imposed

0

Total worth

0

 

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy.

To see an operator’s environment protection licence and their compliance history, log onto the public register. Details of the EPA’s actions in response to non-compliance are also available on the Public Register.

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Page last updated: 25 September 2015