Purpose

This factsheet provides information to general practitioners treating local community members impacted by the remediation of Kealba landfill. This update is for August 2021 and includes environmental monitoring data between July 2020 to June 2021. Further detailed information is provided in Interim air pollution assessment for Kealba landfill hotspot remediation.

Landfill fire hotspots are areas of high temperature deep in the landfill that generate localised smoke and strong odours. Barro Group, the operator of Kealba landfill, has been undertaking works to remediate four hotspots. While the remediation is not generating visible smoke beyond the boundary, the remediation has generated significant odours and, on occasions, particulate matter above the national standard at the boundary of the site.

The two communities impacted by the remediation works are to the north (Kealba, Keilor, Keilor Downs) and to the west (St Albans, St Albans East, Sunshine) of the landfill. Community members have reported health symptoms which are contributing to significant community distress. These include:

  • sore throats 
  • headaches 
  • nausea
  • stinging eyes
  • triggering of asthma symptoms
  • impacts to wellbeing, mental health and quality of life.

Pollution reports were predominantly raised in Kealba and St Albans, with a significant increase in November and December 2020 when the remediation accessed older, hotter waste. Offensive odours reported by the community have also been observed by EPA officers. 

Odours can stimulate the central nervous system causing short-term, reversible physiological effects including triggering of asthma symptoms. Nonetheless, the long-term risk to health from odour exposure is very low. Further information on environmental odours is available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Air quality monitoring

EPA has required the landfill owner to conduct regular air quality monitoring for key indicator substances including particulate matter (PM2.5), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These measurements were undertaken at the boundary of the site with Kealba and St Albans, with concentrations in the community decreasing with distance. 

On the 6 August 2021, EPA deployed air quality monitors in both Kealba and St Albans communities, to provide near real time information on PM2.5 concentrations within the two communities. Hourly average values for PM2.5 include air quality categories and health advice. Since deployment hourly PM2.5 concentrations in the community have been within the category of ‘good’. It is important to note that other sources, including odour, may trigger health symptoms. While PM2.5 may be low, other factors influencing an individual’s health may need to be managed in discussion with their doctor.

EPA's air quality information is available on EPA AirWatch:

Information relating to the Kealba community

  • There have been more than 600 odour reports from Kealba, and numbers increased significantly between the period of November 2020 to January 2021.
  • Measured VOCs in air at the boundary are significantly below levels that would cause acute health symptoms. VOCs are also typically below long-term air quality criteria, with any exceedances infrequent and unlikely to pose a long-term risk to health. 
  • PM2.5 24-hour measurements at the boundary were consistently below the 24-hour national standards except for three occasions between 1 July 2020 and June 2021. Nonetheless, these concentrations represent 24-hour averages and there may have been occasions where particulate matter concentrations were higher and sensitive people may have experienced short-term effects. 
  • The average PM2.5 24-hour concentration for the period July 2020 to June 2021 along the northern boundary is 8.4 µg/m3. As this concentration is indicative of boundary conditions, the annual average concentration within the Kealba community is likely lower. The annual average concentration of PM2.5 at the boundary is close to the national annual average standard of 8.0 µg/m3. This concentration is also comparable with the state-wide PM2.5 annual mean daily exposure concentration of 8.19 µg/m3 in 2019.

Information relating to the St Albans community

  • There have been more than 300 community odour reports between December 2019 and June 2021. 
  • Measured VOCs in air at the boundary of the site are significantly below levels that would cause acute health symptoms reported by the community. VOCs are also typically below long-term air quality criteria, with any exceedances infrequent and unlikely to pose a long-term risk to health. 
  • PM2.5 24-hour measurements at the boundary of the site were above national ambient air quality environment protection standard on 40 occasions (of 247 sampling events) between 1 July 2020 and 31 May 2021. As these measurements are 24-hour averages, it would mean that there were periods of time on these days where particulate matter was higher. Sensitive people may have experienced effects during those events. 
  • The average PM2.5 24-hour concentration along the western boundary from December 2019 to June 2021 was 18.2 µg/m3. This is above of the national annual average standard of 8 µg/m3
    • These PM2.5 concentrations are at the boundary and concentrations in the broader community would be reduced. As such, long-term health risks across the community are likely to be low. 
    • At properties very close to the western boundary, concentrations of PM2.5 were likely consistently elevated. Although the long-term risk for most people living in in this area is still likely to be low, it could mean worsening of conditions for sensitive people with pre-existing lung or heart conditions. Further understanding of dispersion of particulate matter is needed and EPA will be undertaking further assessment.