Current issues

Waterways around the Tottenham fire site


 

The blue line shows the local waterway Stony Creek.

Environmental monitoring

Water quality

This update includes water quality data from 30 August 2018 to the most recent available test results, collected on 13 September 2019.

Overview

EPA has tested water for a range of contaminants from the Stony Creek area and continues 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 sediment in Stony Creek and to keep pets from swimming or drinking the water.

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

Concentrations of these chemicals were very high in Stony Creek on Thursday 30 August 2018 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 recovery works by Melbourne Water and EPA. Water quality in Stony Creek has met human health water guidelines for recreational contact since late 2018.

To aid rehabilitation of Stony Creek, Melbourne Water has undertaken a program to remove contaminated sediments downstream of the fire site to Paramount Rd by dredging the creek bed from the beginning of April to early September. 

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 13/09/2019. The black horizontal bar indicates that the period of dredging has coincided with increased base flows in Stony Creek and periodic heavy rainfalls and creek flows from May to August 2019. These flows may have contributed to further flushing of contaminants from affected areas within Stony Creek.

 

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

Concentrations of perfluorooctane sulfonate acid (PFOS) at all downstream sites were below environmental guidelines on 13/09/2019. Concentrations of the herbicide 2,4-D have declined since November 2018. Levels of 2,4-D recorded at Cruickshank Park and Hyde St were similar to background levels recorded upstream at Quarry Rd, but remained above background levels at Cala St on 13/09/2019.

Results for persistent PFOS and the herbicide 2,4-D upstream of the fire site (Quarry Rd) and at three sites downstream of the fire site at Cala St, Cruickshank Park and Hyde St from 30/8/2018 to 13/09/2019 are shown below. The red and green lines indicate recreational water quality and aquatic ecosystem guidelines, respectively. Note, the very 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 and are not presented (e.g. BTEX chemicals benzene, ethylene, toluene and xylene, acetone, methylethylketone, and phenol). Note, that although these chemicals are no longer 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 2018 to the most recent available test results collected on 13 September 2019. This update reports on how sediment conditions have changed over time since the fire.

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

Latest Results
Concentrations of C16-C34 hydrocarbons in the sediments of Stony Creek were below human health guidelines for recreational contact at all downstream sites on 13/09/2019. Concentrations of C10-C40 hydrocarbons in sediments exceeded environmental guidelines at all downstream sites but were similar to background levels of hydrocarbon contamination recorded upstream at Quarry St on 13/09/2019. Concentrations of copper in sediments were below environmental guidelines at all downstream sites on 13/09/2019. High variation in sediment contaminant levels over time at Cala St may reflect the movement of contaminated sediments downstream during high flow events and/or the spatially patchy distribution of contaminants within the sediments of Stony Creek.

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 13/09/2019 are shown in the figures below. The red line indicates human health guidelines for recreational contact with sediments. 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 although 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

    Since the fire, some odour has been detected along Stony Creek from residual chemicals from the fire. The latest air monitoring results are for 11-12 May 2019 in response to a rain event.

    EPA deployed canisters to measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at the fire site (420 Somerville Road, West Footscray) and at Stony Creek in Park Avenue, West Footscray for a 24-hour period extending over 11/05/2019 and 12/05/2019.

    The VOCs detected and the concentrations measured are reported in the table below. 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.

    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 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.

    Summary of 24-hour VOCs results for 11/05/2018 - 12/05/2019 (no exceedances).

    Compounds (µg/m³) AQ guideline Stony Creek at fire site 420
    Somerville Road,
    West Footscray 
    Stony Creek
    at Park Avenue,
    West Footscray 
    ATSDR Acute MRL
    (1-14 days (µg/m3) 
    1.2.4-Trimethylbenzene NG  5.3 <4
    Acetone 61,763  27 <20
    Ethanol  NG 46 52 
    Ethylbenzene 21,711 7.3 <4 
    m.p-Xylene NG 22 <4.4
    o-Xylene  NG 7.5 <4
    Toluene  7,537 29 <7.5
    Xylenes - Total 8,684 30 <6.6

    NG = No guideline values available.

  • 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 8 Nov 2019