Healthy Environment, Healthy Community, Healthy Business

Environment Protection Authority

EPA Connect Newsletter

Issue 4 - December 2015

From the CEO

Barry Buffier, Chair and CEO, NSW Environment Protection Authority

Welcome to the final edition of EPA Connect for 2015.  

In this Christmas edition of EPA Connect we will take a look at the Williamtown contamination issue that is dominating press in the Hunter/Newcastle region, have a look at the EPA’s important WasteAid Program, hear how we can help improve air quality by installing vapour recovery systems in service stations and have a look at a terrific video about foodwaste in NSW.

We also profile Howard Bridgman - a great advocate for clean air in the Hunter region and member of the Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment. And Nick Agapides, the EPA’s own eminent expert of air emissions in NSW.

Thank you

I would like to extend a big thank you to our various stakeholders: government, local councils, environmental groups, businesses and members of the community who have worked with us in 2015 to protect and maintain our environment.

Our stakeholders play a vital role in managing the environment through reporting pollution, dobbing in a dumper, providing comment on proposed new policies and legislation and alerting us to environment incidents. We look forward to working with you again in 2016 and wish you all a very happy holiday season!

And finally, thank you to the staff at the NSW EPA for a great year. With your hard work and collective efforts we have seen some major improvements in waste management and environmental performance in NSW in 2015, I look forward to further successes in 2016.

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The Year That Was!

2015

It has been another big year for the NSW EPA with some significant and positive changes to NSW environmental legislation heralded and increased capacity to divert nearly three quarters of a million tonnes of waste from landfill through the provision of waste and recycling grants totalling $57 million.

This year we also welcomed a new Environment Minister to the Environment and Planning Portfolio, Minister Mark Speakman.  Minister Speakman has been a great advocate of the EPA’s work and will champion the NSW Premier’s new litter targets - 40% reduction in the volume of litter by 2020.

Here is a snap shot of the EPA’s major activities and achievements in 2015:

NSW Environmental Legislation

The environmental legislation introduced this year includes:

  • New fines for public reports of littering introduced in March 2015.
  • Implementation of risk-based licensing, which formally commenced on 1 July 2015.  From this date forward risk assessment information and environmental performance of all licensees is used as part of the licence anniversary process to calculate and publish overall risk levels.
  • The EPA becoming the lead regulator for all gas activities in NSW under the NSW Gas Plan including conditions on consents issued by other agencies but excluding work health and safety.
  • New regulations to limit cruise ship emissions in Sydney Harbour, which took effect from 1 October 2015. A remarkable achievement in a very short time frame, involving intense negotiations with cruise ship companies and fuel suppliers, and public consultation on a draft regulation in June which drew nearly 200 submissions.
  • The POEO Newcastle Air Quality Monitoring Network Regulation commenced via three monitoring stations, this provides for a continuous local monitoring program for particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. This is paid for by a levy on licensed industries which emit these pollutants.

Annual Report 2014 - 15

The EPA Annual Report 2014-15 was tabled in parliament on 17 November 2015 and is now publicly available on the EPA website. The report includes details of the EPA’s operations and achievements throughout 2014-15 in line with the EPA Strategic Plan 2014-17 (since revised to 2015-18 Strategic Plan). The report also contains the EPA’s finances for the 2014-15 financial year and the EPA Board’s Regulatory Assurance Statement

Orica Mercury Independent Review

This year, further monitoring results from the Orica Mercury Independent Review reassured the community that the potential risk of mercury exposure to the environment and community of Botany is very low.

In November, we also announced that consultants Senversa would begin an Environment Health Risk Assessment as part of the third stage of the Botany Mercury Independent Review. More information can be found here.

Major prosecutions

The NSW EPA has the toughest penalties in Australia for environmental offences which include the pollution of water, illegal disposal of asbestos and hazardous waste and operating without an environmental licence.

In the 2014-15 period, the EPA completed 80 prosecutions with a 100% success rate, securing $1,722,400 in financial penalties. 

Some of the highest penalties to date include:  

  • Tomingley Gold Mine convicted and fined $95,000 for polluting waters from the mine site near Dubbo.
  • Nulon Products ordered to pay $185,000 for breach of licence resulting in emission of offensive fumes in 2014.
  • Mainfreight Distribution Pty Ltd ordered to pay $85,000 for failing to ensure that dangerous goods were transported in a safe manner.
  • Sydney Water fined $157,000 penalty for Malabar Sewage leak.
  • Alcobell Pty Ltd and its Director ordered to pay $110,000 for unlawfully transporting and depositing waste near Lithgow.

Enforceable Undertakings

Enforceable Undertakings are a regulatory tool used by the EPA when there is a serious breach of licence requirements to ensure measures are promptly put in place to redress any environmental harm and obtain a good and lasting benefit for the environment. This year the EPA placed 10 enforceable undertakings to address environmental concerns. Two examples from this year include:

  • Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd was required to give Lake Macquarie City Council $79,800 to improve water quality in MacNamarra Creek after a water pollution incident that occurred in May 2014.
  • Gunnedah Quarry Products Pty Ltd was required to contribute $32,000 towards a local koala research project after it extracted more from its quarry than its licence allowed.

Grants

This year, the EPA’s Waste Less Recycle More program delivered approximately $57 million in grants to boost waste and recycling in NSW, increasing our capacity to divert almost three quarters of a million tonnes more waste from landfill.

Below are examples of the major grants delivered this year by the EPA, some in partnership with the Environmental Trust:

  • $1,499,000 for Rd 2 of Clean Up and Prevention Grants to help local councils, public land managers and community groups to tackle illegal dumping in their communities.
  • $8.36 million for Community Recycling Centre Infrastructure and Education Grants to facilitate 62 new CRCs into the state network. 20 new CRCs were opened in 2015.
  • $8 million for Rd 2 Organics Infrastructure to increase organics processing capacity and to support infrastructure and equipment to reduce food and garden organic waste going to landfill.
  • $17.9 million for Rd 2 Major Resource Recovery to fund major resource recovery facilities in levy paying areas of NSW.
  • $3.8 million for Rd 1 Landfill Consolidation to fund consolidation, closure and environmental improvements of landfills.
  • Almost $8 million for Rd 2 Circulate Industrial Ecology and Rd 2 Bin Trim to help businesses identify recycling opportunities with new recycling networks and free on-site assessments.

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EPA Supports Waste Aid in Aboriginal Communities

Waste Aid in Aboriginal communities

A $280,000 EPA grant from the Waste Less Recycle More initiative is supporting Waste Aid to improve waste management in 61 discrete Aboriginal communities across NSW.

Some of the communities face challenges around adequate waste collection, recycling, littering and illegal dumping because of their isolation or limited access to broader waste services.

The grant will help Waste Aid draft a Sustainable Waste Management Strategy for the communities and fund a NSW Program Director to develop and deliver partnership projects across the state.

Steve Beaman, Director of Waste and Resource Recovery, NSW EPA, said, the strategy will assess the current waste management situations and outline recommendations to improve waste management and the related health outcomes in these communities.

“Waste Aid is already piloting a new sustainable waste management model and way of working with aboriginal communities at Bourke and Enngonia discrete aboriginal communities. This includes the clean-up of legacy litter, illegal dumping, bulky waste and cars, installation of new infrastructure and bins, employment of two community environmental advisers and a formal service agreement on future waste management.

“These communities are also creating educational materials to reinforce their new waste practices.

“Waste Aid was invited into the communities by Mr Alistair Ferguson, Chair, Bourke Aboriginal Community Working Party and is working closely with the Bourke Aboriginal Community Working Party and Nulla Nulla Land Council and nine other members of the Bourke Waste Advisory Committee.

“Waste Aid is doing important work to help set-up sustainable waste management arrangements in discrete Aboriginal communities and the EPA is pleased to be able to provide practical support,” said Mr Beaman.

The draft Sustainable Waste Management Strategy for NSW Discrete Aboriginal Communities, and its implementation plan, will be released for public consultation in 2016.

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Contamination from RAAF Base Williamtown

People around a table.

Contamination caused from the historic use of firefighting foams containing perfluorinated compounds at the Williamtown RAAF Base continues to be a concern for the local community and the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

The EPA is leading the response to this contamination on behalf of the NSW Government and maintaining pressure on Defence to adhere to the ‘polluter pays’ principle but is constrained by the Constitution in regulating Commonwealth agencies like Defence.

The EPA-established Expert Panel, chaired by Chief Scientist Professor Mary O’Kane, has met more than ten times since its first meeting in September this year. The panel is providing expert and independent advice to the NSW Government on what is required to protect the community and remediate the contamination. A Water Working Group and a Risk Assessment Working Group have also been established to provide ongoing technical advice and the EPA is providing technical, secretariat and communications support to each group.

A Community Reference Group has been created to ensure community concerns are represented and acted upon, and a number of local ‘drop in sessions’ have been held to give local residents direct access to officials from all tiers of government.

Craig Lamberton, EPA Director of Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health said, “We share the community’s frustration with the slow progress by Defence and we will continue to seek greater cooperation from Defence to resolve this issue fairly and swiftly, and continue providing the Williamtown community with ongoing information and support.”

On 27 October 2015 the Expert Panel recommended the precautionary ban on fishing and consumption of water, milk and eggs from within the investigation area be extended until 30 June 2016. The extension allows for the completion of a Human Health Risk Assessment that will comprehensively determine the various ways people could be exposed to these chemicals, and what strategies will most effectively minimise this exposure.

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

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Cleaner Air, One Service Station at a Time

Petrol pumps

Did you know that each time motorists refuel at a service station the petrol fumes released contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) including benzene, xylene and toluene that can be dangerous to your health?

VOC's also increase the formation of ground level ozone that is detrimental to both local and regional air quality. Sydney in particular experiences higher ozone levels than other Australian cities, owing to the level of contributing emissions combined with the meteorology and topography of the Sydney basin.

The NSW EPA has been overseeing the implementation of legislation that requires up to 1300 petrol service stations in the Greater Metropolitan Region with vapour recovery systems that will significantly reduce emissions of VOC’s and improve local air quality around petrol stations.

The vapour recovery systems work by capturing emissions at the pump and from storage tanks that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

Stage One vapour recovery (VR1) captures petrol vapours displaced from petrol storage tanks at service stations during refilling operations, while Stage Two vapour recovery (VR2) captures vapours displaced from your car’s fuel tank when you are refilling.

From January 2015 service stations from Port Stephens to Shoalhaven and west to the Blue Mountains that dispense more than 500,000 litres of petrol per year have been required to operate VR1 equipment. By 2017, those larger stations located between Newcastle and Shellharbour and west to the Blue Mountains dispensing more than 3.5 million litres will also be required to operate VR2 equipment.

The installation of vapour recovery systems at service stations will capture up to 5000 tonnes per year of smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOC's), preventing them from entering the atmosphere and causing air pollution.

So the next time you ‘fill up’ check to see that your service station has VR2 equipment installed. The VR2 looks like a smaller hose inside the larger hose. A sign and/or sticker on each petrol dispenser and on the service station premises should indicate if the VR2 is fitted.  More information is available on the EPA's website.

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Feed People Not Landfill

EPA's Organics team launched a video highlighting the problem of food waste in NSW

To mark World Food Day on the 16 October 2015, the EPA’s Organics team launched a video highlighting the problem of food waste in NSW and the work of food relief agencies who do something about it.

The video Feed People Not Landfill  tells the story of a better outcome for a plate of pasta than going in the bin and features interviews with OzHarvest, Foodbank and SecondBite.

Amanda Kane, Organics Manager, NSW EPA, said, “One million tonnes of food waste is dumped in landfill in NSW each year, while every month 100,000 people go hungry. We’re trying to bridge the gap between those two figures here in NSW by raising awareness of the issue, encouraging business to donate and helping food relief charities redistribute more food.”

Every organisation featured in the video has received funding through a partnership between the Environment Trust and EPA’s Waste Less, Recycle More Organics Infrastructure (large and small) program.

The grants program offers up to $500,000 to purchase equipment to help charities collect, store and redistribute surplus food. Rounds one and two of the program supported seven food relief agencies with almost $1.5 million.

The video was produced by Small World Stories.

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Stakeholder Profile

Howard Bridgman

Dr Howard Bridgman

Dr Howard Bridgman, Conjoint Associate Professor at the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, is a recognised air pollution, climate change, climatology and environmental studies expert. His academic career spans some 35 years, during which he authored or co-authored 95 referred publications and two books. One of which was published in July this year - Smoky City: A History of Air Pollution in Newcastle NSW.

It’s this unique expertise in air pollution and the Hunter that makes him indispensable to the Lower Hunter Dust Deposition Project Reference Group (LHDDPRG).

The reference group was created to ensure the views of the Hunter community are considered in the NSW EPA's Lower Hunter Dust Deposition Study. This is an important program for the region. Each year some 165 million tonnes of coal is exported via Newcastle Harbour and many are concerned about high levels of black dust in residential areas that is believed to result from coal transportation on the Lower Hunter rail corridor.

Dr Bridgman and the LHDDPRG will inform the community via residents action groups, such as the Newcastle Community Consultative Committee on the Environment (NCCCE), and via public forums and web page information.

“The NCCCE have advised of significant community concerns about perceived long-term health effects from the black dust. Our response was to undertake a deposition study to gain a thorough understanding of the situation to formulate a response to their concerns. We want to assure Hunter residents that the EPA's responses to environmental problems are based on the best science available,” said Dr Bridgman.

The Lower Hunter Dust Deposition Study is monitoring the Newcastle region for particles bigger than PM10 via a series of dust deposition jars placed at strategic points on the rail corridor and across the city. Petrie dish samples and swabs are also to be used at other locations. The testing is designed to provide an overview of how much visible dust is deposited in the area and where, what the dust is and what the likely sources are.

The study is due for completion at the end of 2015 and the results will be publicly available in the first half of 2016 on the EPA's web site.

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EPA Staff Profile

Nick Agapides

Nick Agapides

People who know Nick Agapides also know that one of his great passions is the South Sydney Rabbitohs. What many don’t realise is that Nick is equally passionate about clean air and his 22 year career at the EPA has significantly contributed to achieving the great air quality we enjoy in NSW today.

Here are just three of Nick’s recent achievements.

Emission standards for non-road diesels: Most coal mines use diesel equipment and their emissions, despite being highly polluting, are unregulated in Australia. Better performing equipment which produce less emissions is used overseas, but not in Australia. To lessen this significant source of pollution, Nick has recently led the development of a cost-benefit analysis and framework for introducing world’s best practice standards at coal mines. When fully implemented, this will be a significant step towards reducing transport emissions in NSW as part of the EPA’s diesel and marine emissions management strategy. Learn more about the EPA's work managing emissions from non-road diesels.

Best practice standards for coal mines: Nick also led another study on coal mines which benchmarked how NSW coal mines performed against international best practice standards. The research led to the implementation of licence requirements for coal mines to minimise their dust emissions and the introduction of verification processes to ensure these conditions had been met. The outcomes of the study established the basis for the EPA’s Dust Stop program.

Emissions Inventory: Nick’s current and most challenging project is the NSW Air Emissions inventory Mk3 which is a compilation of natural and man-made sources and substances of air pollution. The inventory closely studies key pollution producing sectors such as transport, industry and households. The inventory enables the EPA to target key sources of pollution and develop policies to minimise their impacts. The inventory also helps the EPA track how effective its policies have been over time and to forecast emerging air quality issues.

When we asked Nick about his achievements he said, “All the efforts of guys like me would be futile, without the support of good leaders and a solid organisational structure to carry the technical and policy work myself and my colleagues do through to environmental change.”

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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 October to November 2015.

Regulatory Action for the period 1/10/15 – 30/11/15

REGULATORY ACTION

TOTAL

Inspections undertaken

                   135

Prevention Notices issued

                   1

Clean Up Actions issued

                   25

Penalty Notices issued

                   32

Dangerous Goods     = 2

POEO                        = 30

Smokey Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

18

Noisy Vehicle Infringement Notices issued

15

Infringement Notice for Littering from a motor vehicle issued

1269

Environmental Programs

 

Environmental Improvement Programs commenced

3

Pollution Reduction Programs commenced

18

Other Environmental Programs commenced

5

Total worth

$7,058,000

Prosecutions

 

Prosecutions commenced

8

Prosecutions completed

8

Total financial penalties imposed

$165,350

Enforceable Undertakings (EU)

 

Number of EU's imposed

1

Total worth

$130,000

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Page last updated: 18 December 2015