Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s (EPA) involvement with the recent fire that took hold at SKM’s recycling plant in Coolaroo in July has centred around environmental monitoring of air quality, monitoring of waterways contaminated by water initially used to extinguish the blaze, providing advice about how best to contain water used by fire fighters and providing advice, through statutory notices, about clean-up of fire debris and where it can be legally taken.
Air quality monitoring
In support of Metropolitan Fire Brigade's (MFB) Incident Controller, EPA deployed air monitoring stations at four locations around the incident. These were relocated as needed to monitor air quality around the site of the fire in Coolaroo.
Data from these stations was available hourly on EPA’s website and was also provided to the Incident Controller, EPA’s Chief Environmental Scientist and the Department of Health and Human Services.
To provide additional advice to the community EPA also monitored air quality around schools in the Coolaroo and Dallas areas on 17 and 18 July, which showed readings typical of what would be expected on cool winter days.
EPA’s air quality campaign in support of this incident has now ceased as the fire is deemed under control and is no longer producing smoke that is impacting on community.
EPA thanks those local residents that allowed EPA to place monitors on their properties.
A report summarising the results of air quality data collected from monitoring sites during the incident will be made available by EPA once it has been finalised.
Significant efforts by EPA, local councils, Melbourne Water and Yarra Valley Water were made to manage fire-fighting water on the site of the fire to minimise any off-site impacts.
Some of the water used to bring under control the fire at SKM’s recycling plant in Coolaroo has impacted on local waterways and caused fish deaths (carp) at Jack Roper Reserve Lake. While carp is an invasive species, EPA concerns are around water quality.
EPA sampling of Merlynston Creek and Jack Roper Reserve Lake has found extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen that would not support aquatic life such as fish and insects.
Fish have been reported dead at the southern end of the Jack Roper Reserve Lake near the Western Ring Road; there could be further fish deaths. Melbourne Water officers have removed about 100 dead fish (carp) from the lake.
EPA officers have taken samples of the fish for analysis to determine the cause of death, which is thought to be the low levels of dissolved oxygen.
In addition, high levels of E. coli have been found in waterways downstream in Merylnston Creek and Coburg Lake, which indicates the presence of microorganisms that may cause illness.
Hume City Council and Moreland City Council have put up signage advising members of the public and their pets to avoid waterways. The public should also avoid fishing and any other recreational activity at the lake or creek until further notice.
Officers from EPA and Melbourne Water continue to monitor water quality at the creek.
Contaminated water at the SKM site is now being put into the sewer system, and there are measures being put in place to minimise further runoff impacting on local waterways.
This site is permitted to operate under local government planning provisions.
While this is not an EPA-licensed site, EPA is concerned about the SKM Coolaroo site, and sites like it, for the possible risk they may pose to community if not properly managed.
As a consequence of the fire EPA has issued the owners of the Coolaroo site with a statutory notice requiring the company to:
- Commence lawful removal of fire debris and fire-affected waste from the site (and adjoining sites) and to take it to facilities licensed by EPA or permitted by local government to receive this waste type; and
- Remove from the premises (and any adjoining premises) all contaminated water, including water used to fight the fire.
EPA officers have also inspected SKM facilities in Laverton, Geelong, Hallam and Mornington following a fire at the company’s Coolaroo site. Officers have also visited sites in Knox, Darebin and Lara.
Following the fire at SKM’s recycling plant in Coolaroo a joint Government taskforce has been set up to target key resource recovery sites that require extra management measures to ensure community safety.
The taskforce comprises EPA, Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), Country Fire Authority (CFA), Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s planning group.
The taskforce is taking immediate measures to better protect Victorians and the environment.
Auditing of priority recycling facilities across Victoria sites of concern has already commenced. The taskforce is establishing its work plan and reporting arrangements as the auditing continues over the coming months.
The audit process will identify and prioritise sites that require initial actions such as the issuing of Fire Prevention Notices and works to reduce risk at these sites. Local government will also examine compliance with relevant council permits for these sites.
As the amount of recyclable materials at a facility can fluctuate weekly, the taskforce will continue to watch these sites closely; inspections are not one-offs and sites can expect to be monitored closely.