Information on this page is not current law. It details new laws that commence on 1 July 2021 under the Environment Protection Act 2017.
Pollution incidents usually involve a leak or spill. They can also involve an unintended or unauthorised deposit, or an escape of a substance which results in pollution.
If you are a community member, you can report pollution online.
How to know if an incident must be reported
You must report a pollution incident if it causes or threatens 'material harm.' This means that:
- there is an adverse effect on human health or the environment
- there is an adverse effect on an area of high conservation value or of special significance
- the cleanup or management of the pollution would cost $10,000 or more.
Your obligation to report applies even where the incident is contained to your site. It also applies where harm is threatened by the event.
Actual harm doesn’t need to have occurred for you to report the incident. You should be detecting and acting on pollution, not doing a detailed assessment of the degree of harm.
Take a commonsense approach. You should report an incident to us if:
- the release is uncontrolled or unplanned and could cause material harm
- the substances are dangerous or toxic and threaten the environment or people. An example being your safety data sheet indicates risk to the environment or to people
- the substances are harmful to water or land in large quantities, such as a milk and organic materials
- a cleanup would be expensive
- the substance is a ‘substance of concern’ in the Environment Protection Regulations 2020.
Who is responsible for reporting pollution to us
If you’re the person who operated the activity that caused the incident it’s your responsibility to report it. This is the duty to notify the Authority of notifiable incidents under section 32 of the Environment Protection Act 2017.
This duty also applies when someone should have been reasonably aware of the incident. Not being aware of the impacts of your business activities is not an excuse.
How to report
As soon as practicable after you’re aware there is a reportable pollution incident, you must report it. Your report must include information about how the incident happened and how you are responding. Even if it puts your business at risk of legal action, you must report it. Failure to do so may result in a penalty.
When not to report
Some examples of when you might not need to report an incident are:
- a small spill that you have contained and cleaned up on site (depending on the substances – as some chemicals can leak through concrete and other barriers)
- if a release didn’t threaten the environment (could not migrate to the land or stormwater drains)
- if you need limited precautions to manage the material (in accordance with safety data sheets and other labels)
- if there were no known risks from the substance, it’s easily restored or contained on site.
This is a general guide – you need to understand and manage your risks, including the substances involved. Some substances might not be dangerous to handle, but can still harm the environment. If they threaten to cause harm to the environment or human health, you should report to us.
Regardless of whether there is a duty to report the incident or not, you still need to take account of pollution incidents. This is through your risk management systems. You are also still required to restore the environment, whether or not it causes material harm.
How your reporting helps our community and our environment
Your reporting will help us to:
- respond quickly, where needed (some notifications will not need a response from us, or a site visit)
- provide information to the Victorian community about environmental risks and conditions
- understand the circumstances where serious incidents can occur
- address non-compliance under the general environmental duty (GED).
With this information we can better support business and the community to prevent pollution incidents in the future.
Reviewed 2 April 2020