Two Melbourne companies have earned fines of $125,000 and $60,000 respectively for illegal activities that put the environment at risk. In both cases the courts also ordered costs against the companies adding a further $20,000 and $52,000 respectively.
Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) brought legal action against CMA Recycling P/L and Watson Environmental Assessments in separate actions.
Watson Environmental Assessments
A deliberate attempt to pass off about 800 tonnes of prescribed industrial waste as cleanfill has seen waste assessment company Watson Environmental Assessments fined $125,000 at the Moorabbin Magistrates’ Court and ordered to pay EPA costs of nearly $20,000.
In August 2015, EPA officers responded to reports that Category A contaminated waste (containing lead) had been deposited at a landfill site that was not licensed to receive it. There is no landfill in Victoria licensed to accept Category A waste.
Watson Environmental Assessments issued three assessment reports categorising the material as cleanfill as opposed to previous environmental reports categorising the soil as Category A waste.
In ordering the company to pay a fine of $125,000, Magistrate Timothy Gattuso said: “I am satisfied to the requisite standards that this misstatement was deliberate and intentional… In reclassifying the waste in the manner it did, the accused displayed a blatant disregard for the standard of care required for assessments of this nature.”
Magistrate Gattuso said that even though the company has since gone into liquidation, he needed to send a strong and clear message to the rest of the industry that such a “significant breach of trust” would not be tolerated.
Several other parties allegedly involved in the incident have also been charged.
CMA Recycling, a Campbellfield recycling facility, was ordered to pay a fine and costs adding up to more than $110,000 over a 200-tonne stockpile of industrial waste.
The Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court fined CMA Recycling P/L $60,000 and ordered the company to pay EPA’s costs of more than $52,000, on charges of storing prescribed industrial waste at an unlicensed site.
The company was also ordered to publicise the offence, its consequences and the penalties imposed, in four newspapers: the Australian Financial Review, The Age, the Herald Sun and the Hume Leader.
The charges related to an estimated 203 tonnes of Category A prescribed industrial waste, including mercury, barium, cadmium, selenium, found at a Reo Crescent premises in Campbellfield.
The waste was associated with the company’s nearby licensed mercury and silver recycling facility that handled photographic waste, X-ray film, fluorescent light bulbs, dental amalgam waste and mercury contaminated materials.
EPA CEO Nial Finegan said the charges resulted from an inspection by EPA officers after reports of elevated mercury and silver levels in nearby waterways.
“A witness reported seeing forklifts carrying pallets of drums, large containers and skip bins into the property from trucks, and from the company’s recycling facility in the same street,” Mr Finegan said.
“Waste arrived in large plastic bags, boxes, drums and a skip bin; the drums were estimated to weigh 80 tonnes.”
An expert consultant estimated the weight of the solid industrial waste at 203 tonnes, and said that samples showed levels of contaminants such as mercury and selenium that would classify it as Category A prescribed industrial waste (PIW) which would require further treatment before disposal.
The expert consultant reported that since the premises was not licensed to accept PIW and it did not have the normal risk management measures required for that type of waste, it represented a high risk to the community.
The company is in liquidation, and the waste has now been cleaned up by the owner of the property.
Mr Finegan added that EPA had increased its focus on prosecutions over recent years.
“EPA officers, investigators and our legal team have had a real impact in 2017. The message to Victorian businesses and the community is clear – we are making better use of our powers to protect the environment and bring polluters to account. And they can expect more of that activity in 2018,” Mr Finegan said.