Current issues

Diamond Creek update


EPA soil sampling

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has been working with residents to help them better understand their situation regarding legacy arsenic from a former goldmine at 50 Fraser Street, Diamond Creek.
 
EPA has recently concluded a detailed soil sampling program in response to concerns about arsenic in the soil surrounding the 50 Fraser Street development site. EPA engaged extensively with Diamond Creek residents about human health risks and provided information and advice about how to limit exposure to arsenic where necessary.

EPA has taken a targeted, evidence and risk-based approach to the sampling of soils, with properties selected based on historical imagery of the former mine footprint and historic stormwater pathways during the mine’s operation which had the potential to move mine tailings. 

All sampling of residential properties, council nature strips and nearby parkland has shown that the area of concern is localised to the immediate area surrounding the former gold mine site at 50 Fraser Street.

Sampling results have been provided to residents of these properties. 

While sampling results at a small number of properties near to the former gold mine show elevated levels of arsenic in the soil, EPA has not seen any evidence of arsenic poisoning in the Diamond Creek area.  

Arsenic and living near historic mines

Small amounts of arsenic are normally taken into the body each day from low levels that are naturally present in soil, water, air and food. It can also enter the body when a person swallows soil or dust. Arsenic is not absorbed very well through the skin. Natural forms of arsenic are found in seafood which are non-toxic.

EPA’s booklet, ‘Are you living in an area with mine tailings?’ contains practical information about arsenic, how it can affect health and simple steps you can take to protect your health.

Residents who have health concerns about exposure to arsenic are advised to contact their GP.

Environmental audit – 50 Fraser Street Diamond Creek

An environmental audit (under Section 53X of the Environment Protection Act) of the 50 Fraser Street Diamond Creek site started in 2013 and was recently completed by an independent environmental auditor.

As part of the audit, more than 700 soil samples were taken from the site and 27,300 m3 of clean fill has been imported to backfill excavations and to construct a physical barrier across the site.
 
The environmental auditor has determined the site is now suitable for the following uses:

  • sensitive use (high density)
  • sensitive use (other)
  • recreation/open space
  • commercial, and
  • industrial

subject to the following conditions:

1. The whole of the site, including exposed walls or batters, must be covered with a physical barrier. Barriers may include a minimum of 600mm of soil classified as ‘Fill Material’ in accordance with
Soil hazard categorisation and management (EPA publication IWRG621), a continuous concrete slab or sub-grade and pavement (such as asphalt, concrete, stone, tiling or timber) of at least 100mm thickness.

2. Prior to the construction of the development, an environmental management plan (EMP) must be developed for the site by a suitably qualified professional and verified by an environmental auditor appointed under Part IXD of the Environment Protection Act 1970, and this verification advised in writing to EPA and the Planning Authority.

3. The owner/occupier/owners corporation (as relevant at the time) shall implement and maintain the environmental management plan (EMP) required by condition 2.

For more information about the audit, visit
Environmental audit reports online and search for 'Diamond Creek' under 'suburb or town'.

Background to the remediation

In 1999, an environmental audit of the former mine site was undertaken that concluded the site was ‘unsuitable for any beneficial use’ and recommended further sampling beyond 50 Fraser Street, Diamond Creek.

Sampling at properties adjacent to the former mine site showed some houses had elevated levels of arsenic.

At about this time Nillumbik Shire Council rezoned the land to residential prior to any remediation being undertaken.

Conditions for how the development is to proceed and requirements of the developer to control stormwater runoff and other amenity based issues such as dust generation, are enforced under a council planning permit, and a building permit when applicable. Council’s planning and enforcement officers have the powers to enforce conditions.

Commencing in 2000 and continuing this year, EPA has been in discussion with Nillumbik Shire Council regarding appropriate planning controls to mitigate any future issues with the 50 Fraser Street development site and any other sites in the Diamond Creek area.

Frequently asked questions

Responses to a range of frequently asked questions are available below.

Diamond Creek - FAQs + Expand all Collapse all

  • Diamond Creek - FAQs
  • Why is there arsenic in the soil around 50 Fraser Street Diamond Creek?

    From 1860 until the mid-1960s, a gold mine operated on and around the land now titled as 50 Fraser St, Diamond Creek. The process of gold mining leads to chemicals present with the gold (including arsenic) being brought to the surface in excavated rock, which is then crushed to extract the gold.

    Crushed rocks left over after the gold is extracted are known as ‘mine tailings’ (also called battery sand or tailings sand). The practice at the time was to leave these tailings at the mine site. Today, it is common for arsenic to be found in areas around former gold mines.

  • Is the soil safe?

    EPA has taken a targeted, evidence and risk-based approach to sampling of soils.

    The sampling of residential properties, council nature strips and nearby parkland to date has shown that there are a small number of residential properties with elevated levels of arsenic in proximity of the former gold mine site at 50 Fraser Street.

    Sampling results have been provided to residents of these properties, as well as advice regarding practical steps to limit exposure to arsenic where necessary. Some residents have been advised to use topsoil, plants or other ground cover to prevent direct exposure to arsenic.

    EPA has not seen any evidence of arsenic poisoning in the Diamond Creek area.

  • What is a Health Investigation Level, and why might it change?

    A Health Investigation Level (HIL) refers to the level at which a substance’s concentration will trigger further investigation and evaluation to determine the risk to public health. HILs are used in assessments of existing contamination and are intended to prompt an appropriate site-specific assessment when they are exceeded. 

    HILs are specified in the National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) (Assessment of Site Contamination). 

    What is the NEPM (Assessment of Site Contamination)? The National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) 1999 was developed under the Commonwealth National Environmental Protection Council Act 1994. The Act established the National Environment Protection Council (NEPC) to ensure that people enjoy the same level of protection from pollution, wherever they live in Australia. The NEPC makes measures in writing, known as national environment protection measures. The measure for assessing site contamination provides a nationally consistent approach which ensures sound environmental management practices by regulators, site assessors, environmental auditors, landowners, developers and industry. The NEPM is available from the NEPC via www.nepc.gov.au.  

    Why do auditors adjust an HIL? It is very common for HILs to be adjusted to make them relevant for the situation to which they are being applied.

    What occurred in relation to 50 Fraser St’s HIL? The recently completed independent environmental audit for 50 Fraser St, Diamond Creek included a Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA), which used the NEPM process to adjust the HIL for arsenic, drawing on site-specific information. This information includes the type (species) of arsenic present, the future use of the site (such as low density residential), and an assessment of arsenic’s oral bioavailability (the percentage absorbed by the body when ingested). 

    Based on the auditor’s assessment, the HIL for arsenic for low density residential properties in proximity to 50 Fraser Street Diamond Creek has been adjusted from 100 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) to 400 mg/kg. 

    This means that an arsenic reading in Diamond Creek below 400 mg/kg is not of concern for human health.  This level considers the most vulnerable members of the community, children and elderly, and gives protection for long term or chronic exposure.

    This adjustment as part of the HHRA has been verified by the environmental auditor and reviewed by EPA. 

  • Are there other substances of concern, in addition to arsenic?

    Old gold mining areas can present higher metal concentrations, and naturally occurring higher arsenic concentrations, in the environment.

    Regarding the area surrounding 50 Fraser St, Diamond Creek, multiple samples taken by EPA and an environmental audit have shown arsenic is the only substance of concern associated with former mining activities.

  • What involvement has Nillumbik Shire Council and EPA had with the site and what is being done about it?

    In 1999, an environmental audit of the former mine site was undertaken that concluded the site was ‘unsuitable for any beneficial use’ and recommended further sampling beyond 50 Fraser Street, Diamond Creek.

    Sampling at properties adjacent to the former mine site showed some houses had elevated levels of arsenic.

    At about this time, Nillumbik Shire Council rezoned the land to residential prior to any remediation being undertaken.

    Commencing in 2000 and continuing this year, EPA has been in discussion with Nillumbik Shire Council regarding appropriate planning controls to mitigate any future issues with the 50 Fraser street development site and any other sites in the Diamond Creek area. 

    EPA, DHHS and Nillumbik Shire Council wrote to residents in 2001 providing advice about how to mitigate exposure to arsenic from the former gold mine at 50 Fraser Street.

    Since May 2018 EPA and Council have been working with Diamond Creek residents to help them better understand their situation in regard to managing arsenic which may be present in the soil near the former mine site.

  • Why doesn’t a Vendor statement or Section 32 statement of the Sale of Land Act 1962 include any information about historic land use

    A Vendor’s statement, or Section 32 statement, is a statement which the seller of a property (vendor) provides to an intending purchaser. The name is based on Section 32 of the Sale of Land Act 1962.

    EPA cannot provide existing or prospective Diamond Creek residents with legal advice nor advise of legal obligations under s 32 of the Sale of Land Act 1962. Existing or prospective Diamond Creek residents should seek independent legal advice regarding possible property transactions.

    For general information about buying and selling property, visit the Consumers Affairs Victoria website https://www.consumer.vic.gov.au/housing/buying-and-selling-property 

  • How did EPA determine which houses were eligible for soil sampling?

    EPA has undertaken soil sampling in the vicinity of the former gold mine to understand the extent of the impacted area and taken a targeted, evidence and risk-based approach to identifying properties for sampling. Assessments have been based on historical imagery of the former mine footprint and historic stormwater pathways during the mine’s operation which had the potential to move mine tailings.

  • What is the process for soil sampling? EPA collects soil samples from three locations around the property and typically targets areas of higher use and interaction.

    At each location, two samples are taken - one from the top soil and another from the underlying natural soil. Samples are analysed for a targeted group of heavy metals that may be present in the soil – specifically arsenic, antimony, lead, mercury and zinc. Results are then provided to residents, including relevant advice regarding simple steps to limit exposure to arsenic if necessary.

  • I haven’t received a letter about soil sampling, but I would like to have my property tested. What can I do?

    Properties selected by EPA for soil sampling have been identified based on historical imagery of the former mine footprint and historic stormwater pathways during the mine’s operation which had the potential to move mine tailings. 

    If you have not been contacted by EPA about soil sampling but wish to have your property tested, a private soil sampling contractor can be engaged to perform this work. EPA does not maintain a list of preferred suppliers but does recommend the contractor be a member of the Australian Contaminated Land Consultants Association (ACLCA).

  • What can I do to limit or manage exposure to arsenic?

    It is important to know that small amounts of arsenic are taken into the body each day from arsenic that is naturally present in soil, water, air and food. It can also enter the body when a person swallows soil or dust. Arsenic is not absorbed very well through the skin.

    The level of risk that someone faces depends on the levels of arsenic in the soil, and the level of exposure to this soil. If arsenic levels are elevated, it is important to reduce this exposure as much as possible. This is relatively easily managed with some simple steps:

    • Cover any contaminated soil with a clean layer such as soil or mulch and heavily vegetate the area with plants such as groundcovers to reduce access to the soil and dust generation.
    • Do not let children play in the soil, especially young children. The soil and dust can stick to their hands and toys and can be swallowed when they put them in their mouths.
    • Wash your hands before eating and sleeping; wash children’s hands and toys frequently.
    • Wash all fruit and vegetables to remove dust or soil before eating.
    • Wash family pets often.
    • Frequent mopping and dusting with a damp cloth.
    • Place mats at the front and back doors to prevent soil being walked through the house.
    • Leave shoes outside, where possible.

    More information is available in the publication ‘Are you living in an area with mine tailings?

  • Will the proposed development site of 50 Fraser St proceed and will it be safe for existing and new residents?

    Development of the 18 lot subdivision at 50 Fraser Street is subject to the developer meeting the conditions outlined in a recently completed s53X environmental audit and the approval of an amendment to the planning permit and endorsed plans by Nillumbik Shire Council.

    The s53X environmental audit includes requirements for the final site conditions, a minimum depth of fill covering the site, an Environmental Management Plan, and specifications for works. 

    As part of the amendment process, local residents, and referral authorities will be given the opportunity to review the amendment, and provide feedback. Currently EPA has not been advised of a timeframe for this.

    Should the development proceed, requirements of the developer to control stormwater runoff and other amenity related issues such as dust generation are enforced under a permit issued by Nillumbik Shire Council. Council’s planning and enforcement officers have the powers to enforce conditions to protect the health of new and existing Diamond Creek residents.

  • How can I stay up to date and/or find more information?

    For queries about zoning, planning or property titles, please contact Nillumbik Shire Council on 9433 3111, or through nillumbik@nillumbik.vic.gov.au.

    Information about current and former mining locations is held by the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) which can be contacted on 136 186. You could also directly contact Earth Resources Regulation (ERR), which is the section of DEDJTR responsible for regulating earth resources. For more information, visit http://earthresources.vic.gov.au/earth-resources/contact-us

    EPA’s booklet, ‘Are you living in an area with mine tailings?’ contains further information about arsenic and practical steps to protect your health. This document is available online via a search of the EPA website.

    For general information about living in an area with mine tailings please contact EPA Environmental Public Health Unit, via 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842).
     
    For any other concerns about exposure to arsenic, please contact your doctor/health professional.

Page last updated on 14 Jan 2019