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Identifying and reporting pollution

The Victorian community has a vital role in protecting the environment. EPA relies on the community to report incidents of pollution, environmental hazard or other activities potentially harmful to the environment.

  • What is pollution? Pollution is the introduction of substances into water, land or the atmosphere, so that the condition is adversely altered to be:
    • detrimental to its use, or
    • harmful to the health or welfare of humans.
  • What is the environment? The environment that EPA strives to protect includes:
    • land, water, atmosphere and climate
    • sound, odours, tastes and aesthetics.
  • What is an environmental hazard? An environmental hazard is a danger to humans or the environment caused by inappropriate storage or handling of toxic, corrosive, flammable, explosive, or infectious substances. For example, storage of dangerous chemicals or waste products in unsealed containers beside a creek.

EPA sets and enforces standards regulating permissible levels of emission, discharge and deposit to the environment. Causing pollution above these levels constitutes an offence. The 'what to report' section below provides examples of the types of emission, discharge or deposit that breach the law and that EPA will investigate.

Contact your council if activity on residential premises is causing pollution or unreasonable noise.

What to report

  • Emissions from industry:
    • foul-smelling or abnormal emissions
    • offensive or chemical odour
    • objectionable noise affecting you in your home
    • unreasonable dust.
  • Any foreign substances entering the water, shown by:
    • visible sheen or discolouration of water
    • substances being discharged into stormwater drains for example oil, fuel or paint
    • discharge or leak of waste liquids or solids into a watercourse (bypassing a water treatment system)
    • multiple fish deaths, indicating environmental stress, which may be caused by a pollutant.
  • Vehicle offences:
    • excessive smoke from a vehicle
    • littering from a vehicle - for example, a food packet, a lit or unlit cigarette butt.
  • Waste and chemical offences:
    • dumping waste on any premises not licensed for this purpose. Dumping includes burying or stockpiling waste and is illegal whether it occurs on public or privately owned land
    • inadequate storage or handling of chemicals or waste.

When identifying and reporting pollution, please retain your notes in case we need to contact you to clarify the information.

What information to provide

  • What is happening? Is the problem a smell and, if so, how would you describe it? If the problem is a discharge to a creek, what colour is it and what distance or area does it cover?
  • When was it first observed? It's better if you can give an exact time (for example, 10.30 am), rather than just 'this morning'. Also report if you've noticed the problem before and whether it's still happening at the time of your report.
  • Where is it happening? Give the name of the street, with the nearest cross-street. If the problem is a discharge to a creek, tell us which side of the creek it's coming from. If it's obviously coming from a building, who operates it? Include a Melways reference if possible.
  • Your contact details? We'd like your name, address and daytime number in case we need to clarify the report. The information will, of course, be kept in strict confidence. In some cases we may also need to contact people affected by or reporting an incident, to see if they're available as a witness if legal proceedings result from our investigations.
  • What happens next? EPA officers will review the pollution report to assess the risk to the environment based on the circumstances and any previous related incidents. Based on this assessment our officers will decide on the most appropriate response.

    An assessment of the pollution report considers to two key factors; the potential resulting harm to environment, public health and/or community amenity, and the how likely it is that EPA can detect and mitigate that harm and prevent future harms. This is consistent with the risk-based approach in the Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

    EPA may choose to make one of a number of different responses, depending on the assessment of the pollution report:
    • Advise another agency already in attendance (eg. emergency services)
    • Conduct an inspection (either planned to coincide with other work, or immediate) 
    • Conduct a desktop investigation
    • Refer it to another agency 
    • Take no action

    Some examples of different types of responses:

    • A report of pollution entering a waterway may need a fast response, particularly if the pollution might still be occurring. EPA would therefore respond immediately.
    • However if a report is about pollution that occurred in the past, a desktop investigation, including water authorities and others, may be deemed as more suitable.
    • EPA often plans inspections resulting from reports of unreasonable noise and odour to coincide with any reported patterns of pollution (for example, if noise is always reported between 8-9pm on weeknights, an inspection would be scheduled for that time). Response to a report of unreasonable noise or odour may be escalated if we can show that multiple people are affected.
    • A business who self-reports a small spill which has already been cleaned up may not be inspected by EPA following the pollution report. If EPA visits the site in the future, the report would be reviewed and considered.

    Even if EPA officers do not immediately respond to a pollution report, all reports are logged in the system to assist EPA with any future assessments. 

Page last updated on 4 Mar 2014