I subscribe to the periodic Community Updates provided by Councillor Tony Briffa, Deputy Mayor of Hobsons Bay City Council, which I find it useful to be informed of what’s happening around the area.

You can click this link to download a pdf copy of the May 2011 issue of the Community Update. Of course, you can email him to get you on his subscription list.

Of grave concern is the approval by EPA (which stands for Environment Protection Agency) of the Innova Toxic Soil Facility in Altona, despite a petition against the facility, signed by 3500 Hobsons Bay residents. It is stated in this update that the EPA has not even resolved outstanding issues such as appropriate buffer distances, end use and disposal of treated soil, ongoing independent environmental monitoring and audits with public disclosure of results, dust and odour issues, and the health and wellbeing of workers and residents in the area.

Read more about this Facility from these newspapers articles: 1, 2, 3.

EPA does not have an enviable track record, which was exemplified by evacuations of residents from the Brookland Greens housing estate in Cranbourne in 2008 due to methane leaks from a nearby landfill. In October 2009, the Ombudsman George Brouwer found the EPA had failed to ensure Casey Council met the requirements necessary for a landfill lining (Ref 4). He said: “Despite the efforts of [an EPA officer] to highlight concerns with EPA senior management about the risk to residents in the estate caused by the leaking methane, this information was effectively ignored by her regional manager. By July 2007, an environmental auditor warned of an ‘imminent environmental hazard’ and an ‘unacceptable risk’ to residents due to the presence of methane in the estate. However, it was not until June 2008 that EPA senior management began to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation” (Ref 5). Casey Council would pay compensations of $13.5 million and the EPA would pay $10 million to the 771 residents from the Brookland Greens estate as a result of a class action lawsuit (Ref 6, 7). EPA chief executive John Merritt himself had admitted that the agency has gone soft on polluters (Ref 8). Closer to home, we are well aware that Brookyln residents are suffering from foul odours and acute air pollution caused by industrial polluters, without any improvement in sight despite their years of complaints (Ref 9, 10, 11, 12, 13).

Just last year (2010), a Victorian Auditor-General report found that EPA inadequately regulated management of hazardous waste – including potentially explosive, toxic, radioactive and infectious material – at about 10,000 sites across the state (Ref 14). In 2008-09, the EPA made 46% fewer inspections of sites licensed to deal with hazardous waste than 4 years earlier, in part because it had adopted a policy of ”greater self-regulation” by business.

The EPA said this was part of a decision to ”redirect effort to focus on other priorities”. But the Auditor-General’s Office found that EPA could not name the new priorities, nor explain why they were more important than monitoring compliance with the law.

Acting Auditor-General Peter Frost said the EPA’s monitoring and inspection lacked coherence, purpose and co-ordination. He found its records were unreliable, with information on hazardous waste spread across 9 databases, some of them incomplete. As a consequence, there is little assurance that hazardous waste is stored and disposed of appropriately.

Other findings included:

  • While the EPA once inspected all vehicles carrying hazardous waste, it now approved 95% of permit applications based on basic paperwork.
  • Recycled waste was not monitored, prompting fears it may be stockpiled or dumped.
  • Hazardous waste licence holders were not required to guarantee they could pay to clean up potential breaches, exposing the state to significant financial risk.

Ted Baillieu, the opposition leader at that time, accused the Brumby government of stripping the EPA of its powers, leaving it a ”totally and absolutely ineffective” organisation that put Victorians at risk. ”It is not a toothless tiger, it is barely a toothless pussy cat,” he said.

Now that he is in control of the government, he would be able to return the power to EPA to make it an effective environment watchdog and to change its image and perception as a toothless tiger.