Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Spring - October 2016

From the CEO

Barry Buffier

The year has been a busy one for the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and as we near the end of it, I am pleased to be able to share some information about a few of the strategic programs the EPA has been working on. 

I'm especially pleased to introduce the EPA’s new online licencing system, which allows for environment protection licences to be applied for and managed online. Not only will this new system significantly reduce the amount of paper we are all using, it also reduces the amount of time an application can take. Better government digital services is a NSW Government State Priority and I’m thrilled that the EPA is making it easier for our stakeholders to do business with us.   

This year complaints to the EPA’s Environment Line about odours from the Rutherford Industrial Estate, in the Hunter have plummeted. This is a direct result of the vigilance of the local community and the suite of regulatory actions the EPA has taken. Further information about this is reported in this newsletter. 

You can also read in this edition about the success of the new Community Recycling Centres being established around NSW. You’ll be especially interested in this information if you have some empty paint cans to get rid of.

The EPA has lead the development of a training program in asbestos awareness and management for emergency service organisations. You’ll also find some background on this project in this newsletter along with stories on the EPA’s newest office based in Narrabri and the EPA’s audit program of people licenced to use pesticides.

In this edition we profile EPA staff member Matthew James who is involved in the EPA’s management of lead contamination and recently visited the former Bunker Hill Lead Smelter site in the US. And 30 years is a long time for any community to remain committed to an issue, but the Port Kembla Pollution Meeting have done it, and they continue to be engaged. Read on to see how things have evolved.

Lastly I want to introduce three new members of my EPA executive team - the Executive Director of Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health is Sarah Gardner, who comes to us from the New Zealand EPA with an extensive background in environmental health, regulation and public policy; Clair Cameron, has taken up the newly created position of Director of Stakeholder Engagement and Communication, and comes with significant issues and reputation management experience in both the private and public sectors, most recently at Meat & Livestock Australia; and Director of Corporate Services Owen Walker has moved across from the Office of Environment and Heritage, bringing with him valuable experience and insights.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to speak to any of the executive team or learn more about any of the work highlighted in this edition of the newsletter.

 Regards,  
Barry Buffier

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Improving digital services through eConnect- licensing now online

eConnect EPA- the EPA's online licensing solution

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has improved digital services for stakeholders and is cutting down on paper use through its new online licensing system, eConnect EPA. 

Available 24/7, eConnect EPA allows prospective licence holders to apply and pay for a new Environment Protection Licence online. It also allows existing licence holders to submit annual returns online.

EPA Director of Regulatory Reform and Advice David Fowler said providing a digital option for managing licences is something that stakeholders have been looking for.

“The new licensing system commenced on 1 May this year and was initially just for applicants to apply for licences, but from 1 July 2016 licence holders are now also able to submit their annual returns.

“The system provides a much more streamlined and efficient method of submitting and managing licences for both the licensees and the EPA.“It also ensures the submission of better quality and more complete information to the EPA

“Since going live, more than 30per cent of existing licensees have registered to use eConnect EPA, with 25 per cent  of annual returns due since 1 July being submitted online.

“This is a promising start for the new system. The quick uptake demonstrates this is a service that our stakeholders have been looking for; which I am very pleased the EPA has been able to deliver.”

Mr Fowler said the EPA will also be improving the functionality over the coming months to enable existing environment protection licence holders to use eConnect to vary, transfer and surrender their licence.

“We will also expand eConnect EPA to include radiation, pesticides and dangerous goods licensing. This is expected to be available in the first half of 2017.“We welcome your feedback on eConnect EPA and also any suggestions you have on improving this service.”

You can find more information on eConnect EPA and Environment Protection Licences by visiting www.epa.nsw.gov.au/licensing

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Rutherford residents breathe a sigh of relief

Five years since the EPA established the Rutherford Air Quality Liaison Committee, community complaints about odours from the Rutherford Industrial Estate have plummeted. The EPA’s strong regulatory action of industry in the area has led this change, and is testament to our commitment to producing real outcomes for the local community.

The Rutherford stink, as dubbed by local media, generated more than 700 community complaints to the EPA between 2008 and 2015. It emanated from the Rutherford Industrial Estate’s small to medium scale industries including two waste oil refineries, a textile coating plant, asphalt plant and a biodiesel plant. The smell drifted into the surrounding suburbs, affecting local residents’ quality of life.

“The smell was insufferable for many residents, and made some people physically unwell,” Professor Howard Bridgman, technical expert on the Air Quality Liaison Committee said.

“The Committee made a real difference to the community. Residents felt that their concerns were being taken seriously and there was a commitment from the EPA to work towards resolving these issues,” Professor Bridgman said.

EPA Acting Director Hunter Karen Marler said the strong regulatory action in Rutherford had a direct impact to reduce odours.

“In the past year we have ramped up our regulatory action, including ongoing inspections, reviewing monitoring data and conducting sampling. During this period, the Australian Waste Oil’s Truegain waste oil refinery also ceased operation.

“As a result of these actions, community complaints have plummeted, with only three complaints lodged with the Environment Line in June 2016. This compares with over 30 complaints received in June 2015.

“We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the significant improvement in Rutherford air quality is maintained for local residents. And as community feedback was vital to reducing odours from the Estate, we hope they will remain vigilant and continue to report any offensive odours.”

The latest update on the Rutherford Odour Investigation is available on the EPA website at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/rutherford/rutherford-odour-invest-update3-160518.pdf. 

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New recycling centres help to reuse and recycle old paint

Deniliquin Community Recycling Centre

Almost 1 million kilograms of problem waste has been collected from the new Community Recycling Centres set up around NSW. There are centres from Bega to Broken Hill, Lockhardt to Leichardt and Gilgandra to Grafton. 

The Community Recycling Centres are all about making it easier for householders to dispose of their problem waste like paint, gas bottles, oil, batteries, smoke detectors and fluoro lights.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has provided funding to build new Community Recycling Centres as well as upgrade older facilities. Already, 41 centres are operational and a further 60 will be operational by June 2017.

EPA Executive Director of Waste and Resource Recovery Stephen Beaman said the Community Recycling Centres are free to use and are open year round, providing a place for people to safely dispose of their household problem waste.

“Paint is the most common item dropped off at the centres,” Mr Beaman said.

“Paint dropped off at the centres is mixed with other waste solvents and used as an alternative to fuel in cement kilns. The metal containers are recycled.

"This is just one example of how the centres provide a long term solution for disposing of problem wastes and help improve recycling rates. 

“Most people have had potentially hazardous items stored in their garages or homes at some time.

“These items are flammable and can pose a danger to household members and the environment as they start to age and breakdown, and need to be disposed of appropriately. And once handed in, the waste can mostly be reused or recycled.”

The Community Recycling Centres are operated by local councils and other organisations working in partnership with the EPA. They are supported by the Environmental Trust as part of the EPA's Waste Less, Recycle More initiative funded from the waste levy. 

To learn more about the CRC's and see how they are used, visit the EPA's website www.epa.nsw.gov.au/managewaste/comm-recycle-centres.htm

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EPA leads asbestos awareness training

Asbestos awareness training

Fires, storms and accidents are all emergency situations that can cause damage to buildings containing asbestos, exposing a potential hazard. 

Taking early action to manage asbestos helps to reduce the risks to people at the scene of the emergency, the environment and the surrounding community.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has lead the development of a training program on asbestos awareness in emergency management situations.

“The EPA realised there was a need for training in asbestos awareness and had the technical skills and resources to develop training,” Executive Director of the EPA’s Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health Branch Sarah Gardner said.

“We all know that asbestos is most dangerous when it’s disturbed and fibres become exposed, and that is exactly the situation our emergency services teams might encounter.

“The program has been developed for the many emergency service organisations, including NSW Fire and Rescue, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Police Force, NSW State Emergency Services, NSW Ambulance and officers involved in managing asbestos related risks and emergency management from Local Government, NSW Public Works, NSW Health, NSW WorkCover and the EPA.

“Health hazards, hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control and agency responsibilities are covered across five modules.

“This training will reduce the risks to the community from asbestos and to those personnel who are involved in handling and managing asbestos during emergencies.

“We undertook consultation and research to identify the most relevant content and objectives for the training and how this should be packaged up.

“Earlier this year we held two pilot training sessions with emergency service officers and supervisors and other stakeholders, which were highly successful and we received great feedback.

“The training package will be provided to emergency service organisations and other stakeholders for individual tailoring specific to their needs. EPA staff will be able to undertake this course early in 2017.”

The training program supports the arrangements of the NSW Asbestos Emergency Plan, which was introduced in September 2014 as a sub-plan of the NSW State Emergency Plan.

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EPA opens new Narrabri Office

Narrabri Office opening

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is expanding its presence in the community including the recent opening of a new permanent office at Narrabri. EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier said the EPA Board held its regional meeting in Narrabri in 2015 to gain greater insight in to local concerns, particularly to do with coal seam gas.

“One of the things discussed at that meeting was establishing greater presence in the local area, through staff permanently based in Narrabri,” Mr Buffier said.

“I am pleased that we have been able to address this and open a new office in Narrabri.

“This came within the first 12 months of the EPA being the lead regulator for gas activities in the state.

“Three staff are now permanently based in Narrabri including two operation officers and a connected community officer.”

Simon Taylor and Nicholas Payne are the EPA’s two new full-time operations officers and they are joined by Bridie George, the new connected community officer.

“Our staff will primarily be focused on regulating the gas industry, but will also assist with managing other licensees and incidents as required.”

To mark the EPA’s expanded presence in the area, EPA chair and CEO Barry Buffier and chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford visited Narrabri in July to introduce the new staff to the local community.

Photo: From left, Member for Barwon Kevin Humphries, with new Narrabri EPA compliance officers Simon Taylor and Nicholas Payne, EPA chair and CEO Barry Buffier, Mayor Cr Conrad Bolton and chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford

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Operation Buzz Off

EPA inspectors with a pest technician vehicle

Most people have called on a pest technician at some point to get rid of those buzzing, creeping and crawling pests around the house.

To keep pests under control, pest management technicians use pesticides which contain toxic chemicals. If used inappropriately, pesticides can be dangerous to the environment, animals and humans.

In September last year licensing arrangements for pest management technicians were transferred from Safe Work NSW to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). There are currently over 4000 Pest Management Technicians (PMTs) in NSW licenced by the EPA.

EPA Chemicals Regulation Unit Manager, Andrew Hawkins said the EPA Pest Management Technician licences require technicians to abide by strict rules to ensure they are operating responsibly.

“The EPA is undertaking a state-wide campaign to assess the current level of industry compliance with requirements under the Pesticides Act and Regulations.

“The campaign is focused on pest management technicians in the Sydney metro area at this stage. It has involved inspecting licences, pesticide application records, and chemical storage and vehicles used to transport chemicals.

“The campaign has highlighted areas where the industry’s use of pesticides could be improved, particularly in the area of record keeping.

“Through the campaign the EPA has been able to provide specific advice to pest management technicians about record keeping requirements under the Act, training requirements, pesticide labelling and storage requirements.

“Where needed companies inspected were issued with inspection letters advising what actions were required to improve their practices and compliance with the requirements.

“The general public should check that pest management technicians are licensed by the EPA before allowing them to undertake pesticide applications in their homes or businesses. The EPA can also advise whether a pest management technician is licensed or not.

“If anyone has concerns about the operation of a pest management technician they should call the EPA’s 24 hour Environment Line on 131 555.”

The EPA will continue to undertake compliance and education campaigns to ensure pest technicians and other operators who use pesticides are operating responsibly.

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Stakeholder Profile

Members of the Port Kembla Pollution Meeting

30 years of environmental change at Port Kembla 

Approximately 60 past and present participants of the Port Kembla Pollution Meeting came together on Saturday 10 September 2016 to celebrate 30 years of the forums operation. 

The aim of the group is to work cooperatively to reduce levels of pollution that impact on the health or comfort of the community and representatives from the local community, industry and government have been meeting monthly over that long period.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has also been a regular attendee of the meeting since it started in 1986.

EPA Manager of the Illawarra region Peter Bloem first attended the meeting in 1992 as a junior environmental officer and continues to attend to the present day.

“This forum has dealt with many diverse and complex environmental issues, including air quality, some with no quick or easy solution.

“The meetings helped to promote awareness of pollution issues locally and improve access to information. 

“To mark 30 years of operation is an exciting achievement for everyone involved, including people like Helen Hamilton, a community member who has covered every official role with the meeting, secretary and treasurer, and most frequently chairperson, over her 25 years involvement.”

“There was a time when I couldn’t hang washing on the line, now the difference is amazing,” said Helen. 

“One of the key things that we have seen in the local area, which the meeting has worked towards, has been an improvement in local air quality.

“I became involved in the forum due to concern for my family and local schools. The smelter and the steelworks were our main focus, however other incidents and environmental impacts have also been considered, including taking action against local dumping of rubbish.”

“Over the years there has been a real team effort from everybody, being able to celebrate 30 years of achievements was very special.” 

The EPA’s Peter Bloem said, “The dedication of those attending the meeting over the years has led to improvements in the local environment, helped challenge historical industrial stereotypes of the area and left a better legacy for future generations.”

The forum is currently run and chaired by representatives from the local community, with the meeting venue provided by NSW Ports.

Photo: Helen Hamilton and Olive Rodwell, members of the Port Kembla Pollution Meeting.

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Staff profile

Matt James

Learning from the US for local management of lead contamination 

Environment Protection Authority (EPA) manager Matthew James recently visited the old Bunker Hill Smelter site, in Idaho in the US on a study tour to learn from the US experience in the management of historical lead contamination.

He was accompanied by a representative from Lake Macquarie City Council and the Member for Lake Macquarie Greg Piper MP. 

Matthew is the Major Projects Coordinator in the Contaminated Land Management Section of the EPA and has a long history of working with lead and its impacts on people and the environment. 

Before joining the EPA in 2011, Matthew worked as a contaminated land consultant and also worked with the CSIRO conducting lead isotope research on the biokinetics of lead in human pregnancy.

He is now developing the EPA’s Lead Strategy to provide consistent advice on all lead related matters across the state, and is responsible for the EPA’s regulatory program that is overseeing the remediation of the former Pasminco Smelter site at Boolaroo, near Newcastle.

Matthew is also a representative on the EPA’s Lead Expert Working Group, which is evaluating the effectiveness of previous remediation activities relating to lead contamination in communities surrounding the former Pasminco lead smelter.

“The clean-up of environmental contamination from historical lead and zinc smelters is an issue around the world,” Matthew said.

“The Bunker Hill Smelter site provides a good case study to learn from - it was one of the largest smelters of its time. When the smelter closed in 1981 due to uncontrollable human health impacts an extensive emergency clean-up response began.”

Matthew said the study tour provided technical insight to assist him in his role on the Lead Expert Working Group, assessing controls and clean up required in off-site areas around the Pasminco Cockle Creek lead smelter.

“Meeting fellow regulators is invaluable. While in Idaho I was able to meet with three levels of regulators. The US EPA who fund the clean-up, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality who run the clean-up program and the Panhandle Health District who administer the institutional controls program. 

“I also had the opportunity to meet international expert Professor Ian Von Lindern who provided insights on his successful work in developing countries on lead clean-up programs. He was quite inspirational.

“Establishing a solid international network provides a great platform for future problem solving.

“Overall the experience provided a chance to learn first-hand about the different management techniques, including the institutional controls program, and have some good informed discussions about servicing community-wide management of lead contamination. This will assist me in my future work with the EPA in lead management, and protecting our community and environment,” Matthew said.

Greg Piper has put together a short documentary on the trip

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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 July to October 2016

 REGULATORY ACTION

 TOTAL

 Inspections undertaken

 472

 Prevention Notices issued

 5

 Clean Up Actions issued

 41

 Penalty Notices issued

 53

 Smokey Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

  17

 Noisy Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

  20

 Infringement Notice for Littering from a motor vehicle issued

  1906

 Environmental Programs Total

 53

 Environmental Improvement Programs commenced

 3

 Pollution Reduction Programs commenced

 27

 Other Environmental Programs commenced

 23

 Total worth

 $68,520,650

 Prosecutions

 

 Prosecutions commenced

 50

 Prosecutions completed

 26

 Total financial penalties imposed

 $452,835

 Enforceable Undertakings (EU)

 0

 Total worth

 $452,835

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Page last updated: 17 October 2016