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Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has been monitoring odour in the area of the Melbourne Regional Landfill at Ravenhall since 2013, when it was owned and operated by Boral. Transpacific Cleanaway (now just Cleanaway) took over ownership and operation of the site, under the business name Landfill Operations P/L, on 1 March 2015.
Residents in the area have reported very strong odours, and have wanted to know whether it is toxic or could make them or their families sick. They have also reported that litter has escaped the landfill premises and trucks have tracked mud off the site and onto local roads. Some residents may also have concerns about groundwater in the area.
Odour reports received stating the Ravenhall landfill as the source since 2014 (results as a table)
Pollution abatement notice for rising leachate levels
On 18 August 2016 EPA issued Landfill Operations P/L (Cleanaway) a pollution abatement notice (PAN) requiring it to address rising leachate levels in the treatment pond at its Ravenhall site. An EPA officer visiting the site in July 2016 found that disposal infrastructure was required in order to manage leachate levels within landfill cells.
Leachate is a liquid formed by rainwater and decomposing waste. It can contaminate groundwater, stormwater or surface waters if it escapes from a landfill site.
The leachate levels in the treatment pond were found to be at 60 to 70 per cent of capacity. Although environmental impacts were low, Cleanaway will need to install controls to ensure leachate levels are appropriately managed onsite.
As this is a significant infrastructure upgrade that will require a reasonable amount of time to complete, Cleanaway has until 31 January 2018 to meet the requirements of the PAN. In the meantime, the company will continue to work through interim options to manage leachate at the landfill with EPA.
A PAN is a legal notice requiring a recipient to prevent potential environmental risk through installation of risk controls or changes to onsite processes and practices. EPA has provided advice to Cleanaway on ways it can meet the requirements of the PAN, including installation of a trade waste disposal line to the sewerage network.
PANs give recipients a timeframe to comply. Failure to do so will lead to enforcement action in accordance with EPA’s Compliance and enforcement policy (publication 1388).
What have we done about pollution reports in the area?
We have conducted 29 investigations of odour based on pollution reports submitted by the public to us.
EPA has conducted three series of odour surveillance monitoring: in February to March 2014, in February to April 2015 and January 2016. In total EPA has made 760 odour checks as part of these programs.
Surveillance operations in 2014, 2015 and 2016
- Overall offensive odour has been detected in residential areas on very few occasions.
- In the Caroline Springs and Derrimut areas, in prevailing wind conditions when one-third of the winds blow from the south or southwest, you are likely to encounter strong odour less than three per cent of the time.
- The majority of strong odours detected during odour surveillance were as follows:
- 2014 – four of the strong odours detected were from composting, three from the landfill
- 2015 – 10 of the strong odours detected were compost, two were asphalt, two from the landfill
- 2016 – one of the strong odours detected was from the landfill; the remaining nine were of a random, non-industrial nature, including asphalt, manure (from livestock), moist soil, woodchips and a sewer leak.
A weak odour is one that an officer can detect only with considerable effort and, as a result, has difficulty determining the characteristics of the odour and its source.
Most strong odours were on the fringes of residential areas between Ravenhall landfill and the community. EPA then had to determine whether the landfill was likely to be impacting on residents.
On the rare occasion when odours were picked up within residential areas, and these odours could be traced by EPA officers to the landfill, sufficient evidence to pursue sanctions was not available. This was because EPA did not have supporting community reports to determine odour offensiveness in accordance with the Environment Protection Act. In order for EPA officers to confirm odours and trace their source – an essential element of a successful investigation – we need people to report strong and persistent odour to EPA immediately.
While there have been many public reports of odour pollution, ongoing EPA observations have rarely found landfill odours in residential areas.
Odour checks in 2014, 2015 and 2016 (text description)
Results of the most recent surveillance operation (text description)
Rapid response program in 2015 and 2016
EPA also ran a rapid response program in July 2015 and February 2016 due to ongoing community reports of landfill odour. This program involved EPA officers operating from the CFA fire station at Caroline Springs from 7 am to 10 pm daily, so they could immediately attend pollution reports when they were made by residents.
EPA received no pollution reports during the July 2015 operation. EPA responded to 17 reports of odour during the February 2016 operation. Regardless of the short response time, however, we could not detect odour at any of the reported locations.
Other action EPA has taken
Boral was first issued a notice in April 2014 requiring it to complete remedial measures to prevent offensive odours. A second notice was issued in May 2014 requiring the company to reduce landfill gas emissions by reinstating, replacing or repairing landfill gas transmission pipework and increasing the efficiency of its gas extraction systems.
Pinegro Products was issued a notice in May 2014. This required it to modify its infrastructure, technology and management practices to address offensive odours from its composting process being experienced in the Caroline Springs and Deer Park area.
In November 2014 Boral received a fine of more than $7000 after a significant amount of litter blew beyond its landfill boundaries in August.
EPA has regularly inspected the landfill, to ensure Cleanaway is operating it within the terms of its licence.
During inspections in April 2015 environment protection officers explored the need for a daily cover and focused on overall odour performance.
In June 2015, EPA issued Landfill Operations P/L (Cleanaway’s operating company on the site) and Boral each with a pollution abatement notice (PAN). These PANs required the installation of controls to prevent the spreading of dirt and mud from each site onto public roads.
In May 2016, EPA issued an official warning to Cleanaway for failing to immediately notify EPA of an excessive level of emitted landfill gas (methane) at the Ravenhall landfill the previous month. The recorded level potentially put the site in breach of its licence, but the operator took 12 days to inform EPA.
What are we currently doing about the situation?
EPA continues to inspect the landfill every two months, to ensure Cleanaway is complying with its licence, which defines what waste it can accept at the landfill. Under the terms of the licence Cleanaway must not allow offensive odour, noise or airborne nuisance particles to escape the boundary of the landfill site.
If we see a spike in odour reports, we will implement our rapid response program again. We also do monitor reports we receive to see if the community is being impacted by odours.
EPA is committed to engaging with the local community and attends quarterly meetings known as the Melbourne Regional Landfill Community Consultation Group (MRLCCG) (run by Cleanaway). The meetings give the community an opportunity to hear more about EPA’s compliance activities and provide a forum for Cleanaway to hear directly from community members regarding their concerns.