Current issues

Waterways around the West Footscray industrial fire


Wednesday 1 May 2019

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is working closely with Maribyrnong City Council and Melbourne Water to restore Stony Creek and the surrounding environment as quickly as possible.

EPA continues to monitor the environment in the affected areas and provide advice around the potential human health impacts.

 

The blue line shows the local waterway Stony Creek.

Health information

The current advice is:

  • The remediation work being conducted by Melbourne Water has removed most of the black sludge and contaminated water in or on the edge of the creek. But if you come into contact with contaminated water or sludge, remove wet clothing and wash the relevant areas of your body that have touched it with warm soapy water.
  • Water quality is much improved and similar to water quality before the fire, but we recommend avoiding contact with water in Stony Creek as the sediment is still contaminated and may pollute the water if disturbed.
  • Any recent rain may mobilise contaminants along Stony Creek, so avoid contact with water in Stony Creek and any signs of oily sheen or contamination along the waterline.
  • Odour levels from the creek have decreased but are still present at times. Avoid the odour if it makes you feel unwell.
  • As a precaution avoid eating fish from Stony Creek.
  • Don’t let pets swim in the area or drink the water.
  • Seek medical help if you feel unwell.

Environmental monitoring

Water quality

This update includes water quality data from 30 August 2018 to the most recent available test results, collected on 4 April 2019.

Overview

We have tested water for a range of pollutants from the Stony Creek area and continue to advise not to eat fish taken from Stony Creek. However, based on the results of testing of water quality, there are no concerns regarding fishing and other recreational activities in the Lower Yarra River and Hobsons Bay. We advise avoiding contact with the water and sludge in Stony Creek and to keep pets from swimming or drinking the water.

Past results have shown that a range of industrial chemical solvents, detergents and fire soot particles were washed into Stony Creek. The key chemicals detected were phenol (an industrial chemical and cleaning product), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (fire and soot by-products), lighter petroleum hydrocarbon chemicals called BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), PFAS, and industrial solvents such as acetone and butanone.

Concentrations of these chemicals were very high in Stony Creek on Thursday 30 August and caused rapid death of fish and aquatic life in Stony Creek and in some cases exceeded human health recreational contact guidelines for several days after the fire. Concentrations of these chemicals have declined significantly over time.

Latest results

Conditions in Stony Creek have improved considerably since the fire due to dilution by creek flows, chemical degradation and clean up undertaken by Melbourne Water. Heavy rainfall and creek flows during November and December helped to dilute and flush the creek of water-borne contaminants, and aided in the movement of contaminated sediments downstream. The latest results show that water quality in Stony Creek meets human health water quality guidelines for recreational contact.

Melbourne Water began removing contaminated sediments via dredging from sections of Stony Creek downstream of the fire site on 1 April 2019. The figure below shows Stony Creek mean daily flows (ML/day) measured at the Spotswood gauging station (Bena St, Yarraville) from 26/08/2018 to 22/04/2019. The black horizontal bar indicates the period of dredging undertaken by Melbourne Water in Stony Creek.

Stony Creek mean daily flow 

 

Results from regular water quality monitoring at fixed sites in Stony Creek

Results for the persistent chemicals perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and the herbicide 2,4-D upstream of the fire site (Quarry Rd) and three sites downstream of the fire site at Cala St, Cruickshank Park and Hyde St from 30/8/2018 to 04/04/2019 are shown below. The red and green lines indicate recreational water quality and aquatic ecosystem guidelines, respectively. These show that the two recent samplings are similar to previous samplings. Note, the high PFOS levels recorded on 30/08/2018 downstream of the fire site are not displayed on this figure to aid interpretation. Chemicals presented in previous updates of water quality occurred below detectable levels or reporting and are not presented (e.g. BTEX chemicals benzene, ethylene, toluene and xylene, acetone, methylethylketone, and phenol). Note that even though these chemicals will no longer be presented in these reports, EPA will continue to measure and assess these chemicals to ensure they remain below relevant guidelines.   

 

Sediment quality
This update includes sediment quality data from 11 September to the most recent available test results collected on 4 April 2019. This update reports on how sediment conditions have changed over time since the fire.

Overview
EPA has tested sediment at fixed locations for a range of pollutants from the Stony Creek area since 11/9/2018. Although in most cases contaminant levels in the sediment have declined, disturbing the sediments would mobilise contaminants and could increase the risk of harm to the environment and human health. EPA continues to advise to avoid contact with the creek in Cruickshank Park until further notice.

Latest Results
Concentrations of C16-C34 hydrocarbons in sediment exceeded human health guidelines for recreational contact at Cruickshank Park when sampled on 4 April 2019. Concentrations of C10-C40 hydrocarbons in sediments continued to exceed environmental guidelines at sites downstream of the fire and remained significantly above background levels recorded upstream of the fire at Quarry Road. Concentrations of copper in sediments continued to remain above environmental guidelines at Cruickshank Park on 4 April 2019. The high variation in sediment contaminant levels over time at Cala St and Cruickshank Park may reflect the movement of contaminated sediments during high flow events.

Results from regular sediment quality monitoring at fixed sites in Stony Creek

Results for the C16-C34 and C10-C40 hydrocarbon fractions and copper in sediments sampled upstream of the fire site (Quarry Rd) and downstream of the fire site at Cala St, Cruickshank Park and Hyde St from 11/09/2018 to 04/04/2019. The red line indicates human health guidelines for recreational contact with sediments. These results show that the sediments at Cruikshank Park continue to have very variable levels of hydrocarbons while the sediments at the other sites are similar to previous samplings. The green lines indicate aquatic ecosystem guidelines for sediments.  Other chemicals presented in previous updates occurred below relevant guidelines and are not presented here (e.g. C6-C10 hydrocarbons and PFOS). Note that even though these chemicals will no longer be presented in these reports, EPA will continue to measure and assess these chemicals to ensure they remain below relevant guidelines.

Further information

Additional advice and information + Expand all Collapse all

  • Waterways

    EPA, local government and MFB officers worked hard to contain the flow of fire water used to battle the fire, but significant run off has made it into local waterways.

    Stony Creek has been impacted by fire water runoff. Strong odours are still at times coming from water near the site of the fire and down to Cruickshank Park. Odours can be especially bad after rain when higher flows stir up sediment.

    From the time the incident started, EPA has been conducting comprehensive water sampling in Stony Creek and inspected areas of Port Phillip Bay from Brighton through to Williamstown. In the coming days and weeks, EPA is targeting water and sediment quality analysis on contaminants that have been found in Stony Creek.

    The locations of EPA’s water and sediment sampling is mapped below.

    Waterways map West Footscray fire recovery

    Our testing found a range of chemicals in the water including detergents, industrial solvents such as phenol and a group of volatile industrial solvent compounds called BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), PFAS, and fire combustion by-products (polyaromatic hydrocarbons). The sediments contained most of the same chemicals, acting as a store for future release of these chemicals. Levels of chemicals found in Stony Creek have decreased as clean-up progresses and breakdown of the chemicals occurs. EPA will continue to monitor these during recovery.

    Further information about water quality is available here: West Footscray Fire – Water test results summary - 8 January 2019. Residents are still advised to avoid all contact with water and keep pets away from the creek.

    If you feel unwell, seek medical help and follow the same advice as you would for managing smoke.

  • Sludge and sediment sampling

    EPA has sampled sediment from Stony Creek, and the black 'sludge' that has coated some of the rocks in the stream, and plants at the edges. Samples were taken at sites upstream of Cruickshank Park, at Cruickshank Park, and at Stony Creek Reserve off Hyde Street.

    Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS)

    Results received on 25 September show that PFOS + PFHxS (perfluorooctane sulfonate + perfluorohexane sulfonate) were above human health guidelines. Since then, levels have declined to be below the human health guidelines but still above the ecosystem guideline value. Ecosystem guidelines are often exceeded for these compounds due to the widespread nature of these types of compounds.

    Hydrocarbons

    Sampling of the sediment in Stony Creek indicates that hydrocarbon levels in the sediment are below human health guidelines, but still exceed ecosystem guidelines, at least for one compound.

    Metals

    Samples were tested for cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc and other heavy metals. Results for the samples were all below human health investigation levels, set under the National Environment Protection Measure. Many metals exceeded the ecosystem guidelines, as commonly occurs in urban streams. However, copper greatly exceeded the guidelines.

    Advice

    EPA is continuing to advise the community to:

    • avoid contact with water in Stony Creek
    • not to walk along the edge of Stony Creek
    • prevent pets from swimming in the area, or drinking the water.

    Water quality is improving quickly due to the flow of clean water, however, sediment and sludge will take significantly longer to improve due to low levels of movement.

     

     

  • Air quality

    The fire produced a large plume of smoke and there has been a strong odour associated with the smoke.

    Now the fire is out, no smoke is being detected from the fire site. Some odour has been detected along Stony Creek from residual chemicals from the fire. EPA deployed canisters to measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at several locations along Stony Creek over several days to understand any risks posed by these odours. To date, all these results do not show any risk to the community.

    In response to local community requests, EPA has released a table of its AirWatch data showing pollutant levels from Thursday 30 August to Wednesday 6 September.

    Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Result Summary
    West Footscray Industrial Fire


    The smoke produced from the West Footscray/Tottenham Industrial Fire can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are organic chemicals that may cause harm to human health and the environment. To evaluate the impact of VOCs on local air quality, EPA conducted air monitoring of VOCs during and after the fire incident.

    Two air samples were collected over an 8-hour period at a location near the fire on the day (30/08/2018) of the fire. These samples were collected to determine the effects of smoke from the fire. The results for 8-hour sampling were compared against US EPA Acute Exposure Level Guidelines (AELG). AELG are used during emergencies as guidance in dealing with rare, usually accidental, releases of chemicals into the air. They are designed to protect the elderly and children, and other susceptible individuals. Only the results of 8-hour samples for VOCs above detection limits are presented in the table below

    Summary of 8-hour VOCs results for 30/08/2018 - 31/08/2018 (no exceedances).

    Compounds (µg/m³) Corrigan Ave,
    Brooklyn 
    EPA Brooklyn Air
    Monitoring Station 
    AELG 8hr 
    Benzene  8.7  5.4  28, 754 
    Ethyl acetate  <3.3  <3.3  NG 
    Ethyl benzene  <2.5  <2.5  143, 297 
    m,p-Xylene  <5.4  <5.4  564,503 
    Toluene  7.5  6.0  252,495 
    1, 2, 4-Trimethylbenzene  <15  <15  221,227 
    1, 3, 5-Trimethylbenzene  <3.7  <3.7  221,227 
    o-Xylene  <2.5  <2.5  564,503 
    Freon 12  <1.7  <1.6  NG

    AELG 1 (Level) = Notable discomfort, irritation, or certain asymptomatic non-sensory effects.
    However, the effects are not disabling and are transient and reversible upon cessation of exposure.
    NG = No guideline values available.

    VOC Air sampling along Stony Creek

    The chemical odour in this area is due to the vapours or VOCs coming from the chemicals in the creek from the water run-off from the fire site. The 24-hour and 72-hour VOCs results were compared against the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Minimal Risk Levels (ATSDR MRLs). ATSDR MRL is for time periods of 1 to 14 days.

    The sampling results show the VOCs detected were measured at low levels and well below the health impact criteria. Although the VOC levels measured in air is low, you may still experience instances of odour because these chemicals can be smelt at concentrations below the health impact criteria. 

    Results for the 24-hour and 72-hour samples for VOCs that were detected above detection limits are presented in the tables below.

    Summary of 24-hour VOCs results for 07/08/2018 - 08/09/2018 (no exceedances).
     

    NG = No guideline values available.

     

    Summary of 72-hour VOCs results for 11/09/2018 – 14/09/2018 (no exceedances)

     

    NG = No guideline values available

    Summary of 72-hour VOCs results for 14/09/2018 – 17/09/2018 (no exceedances)

     Summary of 72-hour VOCs

    NG = No guideline values available

    The VOC sampling locations are presented by the blue dots in the map below.

    VOC monitoring

  • Smoke

    Smoke can affect people’s health. If people can smell smoke and are concerned, they should try to avoid the smoke by staying inside.

    People with heart or lung conditions (including asthma), children, pregnant women and the elderly are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.

    People with existing heart or lung conditions (including asthma) should follow the treatment plan advised by their doctor.

    If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure, seek medical advice or call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24.

    Further information on smoke is available here.

    Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing should call 000.

  • Asbestos

    24-hour airborne asbestos sampling and testing was first carried out on 31 August 2018 at various locations near the fire site. Further samples have been taken over a 24-hour period on another five occasions. 

    Future airborne asbestos monitoring will be undertaken when severe land weather (high wind) conditions are forecast by the bureau of meterorology and during major demolition and clean-up activities.

    All results for monitoring of asbestos so far have been below the limit of detection, i.e. <0.01 fibres/mL.

    The airborne asbestos monitoring sites are depicted by the blue dots in the map below.

    Asbestos monitoring

  • Ash

    Ash particles fall from smoke. Ash is a fine powder that may be visible on surfaces. Although too large to breathe into your lungs, ash particles may irritate your eyes, nose or throat. Advice for minimising the impacts from ash:

    • Practice good hygiene.
    • Wipe down surfaces with soap and water.
    • Remove footwear before entering your home to avoid walking ash inside.

    If you come into contact with ash, wash it off your hands, face and neck as needed. If ash gets in your eyes, gently wash out with clean water.

    There should be no impact on any fruit and vegetables growing in your garden, but vegetables, fruit or herbs should always be washed in water prior to eating.

  • Monitoring data

     

Page last updated on 1 May 2019