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Environment Protection Authority

Water pollution and breach of licence offences cost Hunter Water more than a quarter of a million dollars

Media release: 27 June 2016

The Hunter Water Corporation has been convicted and penalised $187,500 after pleading guilty in the Land and Environment Court to four charges relating to water pollution at the Dungog Water Treatment Plant in 2014.

Hunter Water was also ordered to pay the prosecutor’s costs of $75,000 and to publicise its convictions in the Newcastle Herald, Dungog Chronicle and the Maitland Mercury.

The charges related to incidents that occurred at the facility between April and August 2014. Throughout this period, a quantity of hydrofluorosilicic acid was leaking from a pump each day, through an open valve and into a stormwater drain that flowed into Slaughteryard Creek, a local waterway.

The leak was discovered on 12 August 2014 and about 2 million litres of treated water containing chlorine was flushed into the creek to dilute the fluoride. The chlorine was harmful to the creek environment.

During the EPA’s investigation it was ascertained that Hunter Water failed to maintain the leaking pump in a proper and efficient condition and it failed to operate the hydrofluorosilicic acid transfer system in a proper and efficient manner.

Hunter Water pleaded guilty to two charges of water pollution and two charges of breaching conditions of its Environment Protection Licence, offences under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.

$150,000 of the financial penalty will be paid to Hunter Local Land Services to fund a project to manage sediment and grazing on the Dungog Common Recreation Reserve. The rest of the penalty, $37,500, will be paid to the Environmental Trust for general environmental purposes.

Chief Environmental Regulator, Mark Gifford welcomed the court’s decision saying it should serve as a strong reminder to all operators of the importance of thorough inspections and regular maintenance in helping to make sure water pollution incidents do not occur.

“Under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act there are strict laws in place prohibiting water pollution because of the impact it can have on the environment. All operators, including Hunter Water have a responsibility to ensure their actions do not breach these laws and they comply with the conditions of their licences,” Mr Gifford said

“The toxicity of these chemicals impacted on aquatic life in the local tributaries over a number of weeks. This environmental harm could have been easily avoided if Hunter Water had taken a number of practical steps including carrying out regular inspections, proper equipment servicing and ensuring staff received appropriate environmental training.” 

NSW Health confirmed that drinking water quality was not affected as a result of the incident.

Since the incident Hunter Water has undertaken a number of steps to improve its operations, including completing an upgrade of to the hydrofluorosilicic acid facilities at the Dungog Plant. Hunter Water is also designing improved systems for storage of other chemicals like liquid chlorine, aluminium sulphate and cationic polymer.

The EPA is formalising these improvement works in a Pollution Reduction Program that will be added to Hunter Water’s Licence later this year.

Hunter Water has also recently upgraded its other hydrofluorosilicic acid installations at its plants at Anna Bay, Grahamstown, Lemon Tree Passage and Nelson Bay at a cost of nearly $5 million incorporating lessons learnt from the Dungog incident.

END 

Contact: Public Affairs

Page last updated: 27 June 2016