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Environment Protection Authority

Water pollution offence costs Custom Chemicals a record $420,000

Media release: 22 November 2016

Custom Chemicals Pty Ltd has pleaded guilty to water pollution and has been convicted and penalised $360,000 in the Land and Environment Court today after the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) prosecuted the company for discharging a mix of chemicals into a pond at the rear of the premises.

The court ordered Custom Chemicals, based at Tomago in the Hunter region, to pay a penalty of $300,000 towards the “Coastal Saltmarsh Project at Ash Island, Hunter Wetlands National Park” and to pay a further penalty of $60,000 to the Environmental Trust for general environmental purposes. 

This is the highest penalty ever imposed for a water pollution offence under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.

Custom Chemicals was also ordered to pay the EPA’s legal costs of $40,000 and investigation costs of $23,567 and to publish details of the offence and penalty in the Sydney Morning Herald and Newcastle Herald.

In handing down the judgement, Justice Preston said the environmental harm caused or likely to be caused by the offence was significant. Justice Preston also said the company’s training of its staff was extremely inadequate and he ordered its employees to attend a specified environmental training course.

EPA Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford said the repeated and deliberate pollution of waters by Custom Chemicals showed a total disregard for the environment. 

“This record penalty reflects that discharges resulted in significant and substantial actual harm to the waterways downstream as far as Tomago Road. Some of the discharges would have killed any aquatic life in the pond,” Mr Gifford said.

“The management and handling of chemicals on the site was of a very poor standard, with spills and discharges commonly occurring.”  

Custom Chemicals carries out the purchase, storage and processing of chemicals for resale and is regulated by Port Stephens Council.  

I
n June 2015 EPA officers noticed smoke from the site and inspected the premises. During the inspection EPA officers observed a pipe discharging discoloured waters which testing revealed to be highly alkaline.  

The EPA’s subsequent investigation found that Custom Chemicals had routinely discharged a mixture of chemicals and waste water from a holding tank on the premises into a pond at the rear of the site, which drained into a local creek that leads to a wetland and the Hunter River.

F
rom 1 July 2014 to 17 June 2015, around 30 different chemicals were pumped from the site’s holding tank into the pond, including hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, caustic soda, potassium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite, all are identified as hazardous chemicals. 

Custom Chemicals was issued a Clean-up Notice requiring them to cease all discharges and pump out and appropriately store and dispose of contaminated water to prevent further pollution of waters. In response to the Clean-up Notice Custom Chemicals has installed new equipment and has been paying to regularly have its liquid waste removed from the site for lawful treatment and disposal.

The EPA is continuing to assist Port Stephens Council with the ongoing regulation of this site to ensure the facility is operated in a manner that does not harm the local environment.

Contact: Public Affairs

Page last updated: 22 November 2016