Bendigo and other parts of Victoria were centres of large goldmining activity in the 1800s and early 1900s. A byproduct of these operations were mine wastes such as calcined sand and grey sands. These sands can contain high concentrations of arsenic. 

In 2019, the draft Environment Protection Regulations were available for public comment. There were concerns about the potential impact on business and community in historical gold mining areas, due to the contaminated land duties in the Environment Protection Act 2017.

The Victorian Government funded EPA to investigate the 'ambient' or background level of arsenic in the region.   

This study will help us advise the community and people who manage contaminated land.

What we measured

We collected 263 samples to measure ambient arsenic levels. 

We compared surface soil from:

  • the ambient environment around intensive gold processing sites in central Bendigo (area 1)  
  • sites in Greater Bendigo where gold processing was less intensive or did not occur (area 2).

What we found

Arsenic concentrations were about 2.5 times higher in area 1 (median = 14 mg/kg) than in area 2 (median = 6 mg/kg).

This is consistent with findings from other goldmining areas in Australia and overseas. 

Both results are below human health investigation levels for soil. Read more in the National Environment Protection Measure (Assessment of Site Contamination) 1999.

What this means

We recommend an upper threshold background concentration of 14 mg/kg arsenic for surface soils in historical goldmining areas around Bendigo.

There are many areas in Greater Bendigo that contain mine waste or are connected to mine waste sites. They often contain arsenic above the recommended background level. Where any evidence of mine waste is observed at a site, further investigation of potential contamination should be undertaken.

This scientific information should not replace medical advice or guidance. If you are concerned about the health impacts, contact your GP. 

Read more about living in areas with mine tailings.

Target audience
Local government planning authorities, contaminated land industry associations
Number of pages
Release date
24 May 2024
Reading level
Document version

Reviewed 24 May 2024