Contaminant testing at Hillsdale

On 11 April 2013, concerns were raised with the EPA by Mr Andrew Helps of HG Recoveries Pty Ltd about hexachlorobenzene (HCB) possibly being present in soils in the vicinity of the Sydney Water easement on Denison Street, Hillsdale.

The EPA tested at 15 locations, including along footpaths on Denison Street and a portion of the Sydney Water easement adjacent to Denison Street, for HCBs and 94 other metals and chemicals. The results of this testing showed that nearly all were below health investigation levels as set by the national standards for soil contamination. Results for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) indicated further investigation was necessary.

On 16 May, the EPA posted its findings on its website (PDF, 18KB).

Additional testing

The EPA also required Sydney Water to undertake tests of its easement. Sydney Water’s sampling took in a larger area than that of the EPA’s. It confirmed the EPA’s results, except for one site which showed an elevated level of benzo(a)pyrene. Because of this finding, Sydney Water committed to conducting further testing and its consultants recommended that grass cover remain on site in the interim.

NSW Health assessment of all the results was that they do not pose a health concern.

Subsequent testing by Sydney Water again confirmed that levels of all chemicals tested were below health investigation levels, except for a localised spot of benzo(a)pyrene and lead on the eastern portion of the site. The results also identified the presence of asbestos in a small area, as reported on Sydney Water’s website.

The EPA discussed the results with Sydney Water, who engaged a consultant to undertake minor capping work at the eastern portion of the site in December 2013 and January 2014 to address the presence of the contaminants. Sydney Water will prepare an Environmental Management Plan for the ongoing management of the site.

The EPA believes that the actions being undertaken by Sydney Water are appropriate.

Meanwhile, the EPA conducted further analysis of its sampling to test for chlorine and HCB breakdown products: read the results of these findings (PDF, 44KB).

Independent review of EPA activities around Botany contamination

Mr Andrew Helps, of HG Recoveries, has raised many issues with the EPA about industrial activities and environmental concerns relating to the Botany Industrial Park. While the EPA has undertaken a thorough and appropriate approach to investigating and addressing each of Mr Helps’s concerns, he has publicly stated that it is his belief that this course of action has been unsatisfactory.

To resolve the differences, at the request of the EPA Board, the NSW Minister for the Environment Robyn Parker formally requested NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor Mary O’Kane to recommend an independent reviewer to assess the EPA’s processes and due diligence.

On the Chief Scientist’s recommendation, in October 2013 the EPA Board commissioned senior chemical engineer Emeritus Professor Chris Fell AM, Chairman of the Australian National Fabrication Facility Board, to undertake the review.

Professor Fell examined the actions of the EPA with respect to mercury pollution emanating from the Orica Port Botany site and, in particular, how the EPA has responded to commentary by Mr Helps of Hg Recoveries Pty Ltd on this and other subjects. In mid-December 2013 Professor Fell presented his review findings to the EPA Board.

Professor Fell’s findings are:

"The report has examined the actions of EPA with respect to mercury pollution emanating from the Orica Port Botany site and, in particular, how the EPA has responded to commentary by Mr Helps of Hg Recoveries Pty Ltd on this and other subjects.

"Having carefully reviewed all information provided, interviewed ten relevant persons and searched available literature, I have formed the view that the EPA has correctly considered and applied the NEPM framework, noting the 2013 revisions to the NEPM and has met its obligations under the Contaminated Land Management (CLM) Act.

"Mr Helps’ input has been appropriately taken into account by Authority officers and the Department of Health and given considered technical evaluation where appropriate. Mr Helps’ accusation of misinterpreting or misrepresenting of data on contamination and monitoring is not upheld.

"There remains a measure of community unease about how the remediation on the Orica site will proceed. Some suggestions on how the EPA might consider improving its image in this regard are made.

"Finally I would like to thank all of those interviewed during the review process for their willingness to be engaged in frank and far-reaching discussion."

View the Executive Summary and Suggestions for Improvement within the EPA from Professor Fell's report (PDF, 99KB).

Professor Fell’s full report was tabled in Parliament on 26 February 2014, along with an annotated copy of the report and a letter from Professor Fell to EPA Chair and CEO Barry Buffier.

View the EPA’s submission to the Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry into the workings of the EPA, which also details its handling of this issue.

EPA community and media correspondence and subsequent media reports on this issue

29 July: Media Watch report on The Sun-Herald's articles about the contaminant testing at Hillsdale

12 July: EPA media release

9 July: An open letter (PDF, 100KB) from Barry Buffier, EPA Chair and CEO, which was delivered to 500 homes in Hillsdale and given to residents at multiple EPA pop-up stands held in the community over the following two weeks

7 July: EPA media release

16 May: EPA public response (PDF,18KB) to concerns about HCB outside the boundary of Botany Industrial Park

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