Current issues

Illegal waste dump site south of Kaniva


Community event

EPA will be joined by representatives from GWMWater, West Wimmera Shire Council, Agriculture Victoria and the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

Come along to the meeting to receive an update and the opportunity to put questions to EPA and other relevant government organisations.

When: Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Time: 5 to 6.30 pm
Where: Kaniva Shire Hall, Baker Street, Kaniva
RSVP: Registrations are important. Please register via email at northwest.mailbox@epa.vic.gov.au

What happened

EPA is investigating an illegal waste dump at a large rural property. It is located approximately 15 kilometres south of Kaniva near Lemon Springs on a 1400-acre property on the Kaniva–Edenhope Rd.

What EPA is doing

As part of an EPA investigation 20 sites have been located on the property with what we suspect are industrial waste containers buried underground. We used a new form of drone technology with Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), a first for an Australian regulator, in the investigation.

EPA is working with Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water Corporation (GWMWater) to monitor groundwater. With the data collected, EPA has not found any groundwater impacts.

EPA has expanded the program to monitor groundwater conditions on the property. This has been achieved through the construction of new bores on the property and undertaking more groundwater testing. GWMWater will continue to monitor the urban supply. Please see this fact sheet prepared by GWMWater for more information on Kaniva's groundwater supply.

We also carried out soil sampling and assessed surface level vapour risks on areas suspected of buried waste to determine if any harmful gasses are escaping from underground. The results have come back negative to both public health and environmental concerns.

Three of the more significant areas suspected of buried waste have been excavated. The excavations have shown that the waste has been buried in a systematic and organised manner. Samples from excavated containers have been sent for analysis to an independent National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory for a range of chemicals including solvents and hydrocarbons. EPA is awaiting the analysis results.

Exploratory excavation works show the 20 dispersed waste dumps contain a volume of waste of up to 8,000 cubic metres of solid and liquid waste. Of this volume, we estimate three to five million litres is potentially liquid waste, which is likely to contain solvents, hydrocarbons and associated liquid waste. The total area covered by the 20 dump sites is around 2 acres of the 1,400 acre property (<0.2 per cent).

All excavated waste has been placed in a secure and bunded area on the property. This waste will be removed from the site and taken to an appropriately licensed facility by the end of November in accordance with transport of Dangerous Goods legislation.

This work has provided more information to EPA about the type and extent of waste that has been buried at the property. It also provides a better understanding of the best way to achieve a cleanup of the site that prevents harm to human health and the environment.

We are also conducting more drone with GPR flights over the property to do further search and mapping work.

EPA has also hired contractors to undertake further assessments to identify any more measures required, beyond the steps we are already taking, to ensure the safety of the community and the environment. The assessment is underway and expected to be completed around the end of the year.

EPA has taken a further step in the ongoing legal process. It has issued the owner of the property a Clean Up Notice. This states the site has to be secure and have signage installed. It also orders the carrying out of an Environmental Site Assessment, supervised by EPA. This will determine the type and extent of the contamination present. The legal notice stops the property owner from excavating any of the buried waste at the site. The property owner has not met all conditions of the notice. EPA takes this non-compliance extremely seriously, and further action is being taken.

EPA has asked the owner of the property to show cause why EPA the Authority should not use its regulatory powers to step in to take over management and cleanup of the site’s environmental issues. Further action will be determined once the owner of the property has been given an opportunity to respond. Meanwhile, EPA is onsite regularly and progressing its investigation.

EPA’s role

EPA holds the duty holder to account. Under the Environment Protection Act 1970, the person who dumped the waste must clean up the site.

A cleanup cost or timeframe is not yet available. We expect cleanup to take some time. It will be a complex process.

This has been an extensive investigation with more work to come.

The challenges to date have included:

  • the size and remoteness of the premises
  • the natural geology
  • the identification of potential areas where waste may be buried underground
  • the waste is buried making analysis and quantification difficult
  • the safety of our staff.

Risks to human health and the environment

EPA's priority throughout its investigation of this site is the safety of the community and our staff.

EPA is working with GWMWater to monitor groundwater. With the data collected, EPA has not found any groundwater impacts.

EPA has expanded the program to monitor groundwater conditions on the property. GWMWater will continue to monitor the urban supply. 

We also carried out soil sampling and assessed surface level vapour risks on areas suspected of buried waste. The latter means identifying if any harmful gasses are escaping from underground. The results have come back negative to both human health and environmental concerns.

Q&A on the illegal waste dump site south of Kaniva + Expand all Collapse all

  • 1. What risks do the surrounding properties and township of Kaniva face from the illegal waste dump site?

    Regular groundwater testing shows no signs of contamination. The site is 15 kilometres south of Kaniva and does not pose a risk to the township.

    Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water Corporation (GWMWater) monitor the groundwater supply for the Kaniva township. GWMWater’s monitoring and testing continues to reveal no impact on the water supply.

    Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) and relevant government organisations will take all measures to ensure ongoing safety at the site.

    Soil sampling and an assessment of surface level vapour risks on areas suspected of buried waste have been completed. The results have returned negative to both public health and environmental concerns.

  • 2. When did EPA first attend the site of the illegal waste dump?

    EPA has been investigating this site since July 2018, after it was referred to us by the police.

    The site is a large rural property, 1400 acres in size. It is located approximately 15 kilometres south of Kaniva near Lemon Springs, on the Kaniva–Edenhope Road, within the municipality of West Wimmera Shire Council.

  • 3. Why did EPA attend?

    EPA responded to police notification about potentially suspicious activity and a request for operational support.

  • 4. What type of waste has EPA found illegally dumped at the site?

    EPA has conducted many inspections of the site, including a first ever use by an Australian regulator of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) using drones. The inspections to date have located 20 underground dump areas.

    Three of the more significant areas suspected of buried waste have been excavated. The excavations have shown that the waste has been buried in a systematic and organised manner. Samples from excavated containers have been sent for analysis to an independent National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory for a range of chemicals including solvents and hydrocarbons. EPA is awaiting the analysis results.

    This work has provided more information to EPA about the type and extent of waste that has been buried at the property. It also provides a better understanding of the best way to achieve a cleanup of the site that prevents harm to the environment and human health.

  • 5. How much waste has been illegally dumped at the site?

    Exploratory excavation works show the 20 dispersed waste dumps contain a volume of waste of up to 8000 cubic metres of solid and liquid waste. EPA estimates of this volume, three to five million litres is potentially liquid waste that is likely to contain solvents, hydrocarbons and associated liquid waste. The total area covered by the 20 dump sites is around two acres of the 1400-acre property (less than 0.2 per cent).

  • 6. What happens to the waste that has been dug up?

    All waste excavated to date (and future onsite works) has been placed in a secure and bunded area on the property. Bunding refers to a designated area that is designed to contain any spills or leaks from liquids stored above-ground. All bunded waste will be removed from the site and taken to an appropriately licensed facility by the end of November in accordance with transport of dangerous goods legislation.

  • 7. When will the rest of the sites suspected of containing buried waste be excavated and cleaned up?

    This is a complex and very large site in an isolated area, which poses logistical and safety issues that will need full consideration. A full cleanup plan will detail excavation, removal, transport and disposal and will take time to develop given the challenges that are faced.

    EPA and relevant government organisations will only proceed when all safety considerations are met.

  • 8. Why is it taking so long?

    EPA has gone to great lengths to manage this site to protect human health and the environment. This is a complex situation. The site is remote and large. The discovery of underground dump sites required the use of new technology not yet used by any regulator in Australia.

    Accessing the suspected buried container is difficult because of:

    • the size and remoteness of the premises
    • the natural geology
    • the identification of potential areas where waste may be buried underground
    • the waste being buried making analysis and quantification difficult
    • safety of our staff and contractors
    • weather conditions.
  • 9. Is the site safe?

    The site does have significant onsite safety concerns if you are unaware of the dangers. EPA recommends that under no circumstances should people enter the site.

  • 10. What risk does this site pose to the neighbours and the Kaniva township during the fire season?

    EPA will continue to work with the Grampians Regional Emergency Management Team (REMT) and keep relevant incident response and consequence management plans up to date.

    EPA is working with the Country Fire Authority (CFA) in using air modelling at the site. The modelling gives officers responding to a fire information on the direction and distance of the smoke.

    The property is 15 kilometres south of Kaniva. Based on the air modelling, there is minimal risk to the township from smoke should a fire start at the property.

    If requested, EPA and SES has incident air monitoring equipment that can be deployed at site within several hours. This would be used to provide further information on human health for the local community.

  • 11. Who is the Regional Emergency Management Team (REMT)?

    The REMT comprises local and state government organisations that may have a role to undertake in the event of an emergency. There is an REMT for different regions across Victoria.

    Member organisations include (but not limited to) Victoria Police, SES, CFA, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Ambulance Victoria, Emergency Management Victoria, Parks Victoria, Agriculture Victoria and EPA.

    Representatives on the REMT generally hold senior positions within the government organisation or are situated within a regional or district office.

  • 12. If a fire was to occur how will it be managed and by who

    EPA, while onsite for excavation works, will try to manage small spot fires with equipment such as extinguishers and fire blankets. EPA also has access to two 2000-litre water carts at operational areas. EPA staff will call for rapid fire response in line with CFA classifications if required.

    As initial sample results show a range of chemicals present on the site, CFA requirements are that only HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials) qualified and equipped members can respond to a chemical fire to ensure the safety and wellbeing of CFA members.

    This requirement and expectation is the same of the CFA Kaniva Brigade and any CFA Brigade.

    A basic HAZMAT capability exists at Horsham and a more specialised HAZMAT capability can deploy from Ballarat.

    CFA and its emergency service partners are well prepared and equipped to issue public warnings and advice in the case of any emergency.

    In the case of a grass or scrub fire (not involving the chemicals) while EPA is undertaking excavation works, EPA onsite staff will be able to grant local CFA members access to respond, subject to a risk assessment, to assist navigation of the site.

    Vapour testing has been conducted on the site which shows that the risk of the materials igniting is very low.

  • 13. What can I expect to see over the next three months?

    EPA will continue to progress its onsite investigations and activities, including:

    • reviewing and analysing the data gathered since September 2019.
    • completion of the independent risk assessment. This assessment will identify any more measures required, beyond the steps EPA is already taking, to ensure the safety of the community and the environment
    • additional rounds of groundwater testing.
    • planning and procuring for the next stage of the response plan (likely to be late March/April).
    • continued engagement with both local community groups and government organisations.

    Over the summer period, physical works on the property will be limited. This is due to managing the health and safety of staff and contractors that are required to wear full safety gear in the heat. This is standard attire whenever handling chemical deposits. In addition, the CFA has directed EPA to not undertake high-risk activities onsite during severe, extreme and total fire ban days.

  • 14. Who pays to clean up the site?

    EPA will take all steps necessary to hold those responsible for dumping this waste to account. The community rightly expects those responsible for causing an environmental hazard to be responsible for cleaning it up.

    EPA must go through due process under our legislation to give the owners as the duty holder a chance to clean up, at their cost and to comply with notices issued by EPA.

    If EPA must step in to clean up, it becomes a cost to the community when it should be a cost to the duty holder. EPA will use all its regulatory powers and continue to work closely with other agencies to reduce any risk to community safety and the environment.

    Under the Environment Protection Act 1970, EPA has the ability to recover costs from duty holders.

  • 15. Is there an estimate?

    Not yet. A cleanup plan cannot be designed or costed until the full scale and nature of the suspected waste is confirmed.

  • 16. What actions has EPA taken to hold the polluters to account?

    EPA has taken a further step in the ongoing legal process. It has issued the owner of the property a Clean Up Notice. This states the site has to be secure and have signage installed. It also orders the carrying out of an Environmental Site Assessment, supervised by EPA. This will determine the type and extent of the contamination present. The legal notice stops the property owner from excavating any of the buried waste at the site.

    The notice has several dates by which certain actions must be taken and reports provided to EPA. The early dates have not been met. This non-compliance will be picked up by EPA’s ongoing investigation. EPA undertakes its investigations in accordance with EPA’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

    Consequently, EPA has asked the owner of the property to show cause why EPA should not use its regulatory powers to step in and take over the management and cleanup of the site’s environmental issues. Further action will be determined once the owner of the property has been given an opportunity to respond. Meanwhile, EPA is onsite regularly and progressing its investigation.

  • 17. How will I be kept informed?

Page last updated on 21 Nov 2019