12 July

Video transcript

Kealba landfill community information session
12th July 2021 event recording transcript

- Good evening, everybody. And welcome to EPA's community information session on regulation of the Kealba landfill to support the release of a recent report. As many of you know, my name is Steven Lansdell, I'm very proud to be our Western Metropolitan Regional Manager for EPA. I will chair tonight to help work through some of the information we will share. Personally, before we talk a bit more about the running of the night, I would really like to acknowledge the impacts that the recent hotspots issue has had in particular on a lot of you and also acknowledge your leadership, your resilience and your patience to work with us through the issue, but also through some really trying times over the past 18 months. In terms of housekeeping, we'd like to make sure you're aware that tonight's recording -- tonight's presentation will be recorded. And that recording and all of the slides that we will work through will be made available on our website within the week. So, in that context, there is a fair bit of text and information on the slides to support not only yourselves in listening to this afterwards, but people that may not be able to attend tonight, to work through the information. 
We will also be running question and answer sessions throughout the night, on some particular sections. You will notice on -- in the right hand top corner of your screen, you're able to enter a Q&A function, which means you can write in questions at any point throughout the night. You can also vote on your favourite questions so that we can make sure we get to the most popular questions. We will obviously be endeavouring to get to all or as many as we can tonight. But we will certainly follow up on any that we don't get through tonight and use them to inform updates to our websites and ongoing engagement. Firstly, for the night, I would like to introduce our Chief Executive Officer, Mr Lee Miezis to introduce us tonight. Thanks, Lee.
- Thank you, Steve, and thank you for everyone for attending and taking the time to join us on a pretty cold and now wet Monday night. I appreciate that this has been relatively short notice in terms of pulling this together. I'm really pleased you have been able to join with us. I will start by acknowledging traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people, and certainly EPA acknowledges Aboriginal people as the First Peoples and traditional custodians of the land and water on which we live, work and depend and we certainly pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. As Victoria's environmental regulator, we pay respect to how Country has been protected and cared for by Aboriginal people over many tens of thousands of years. And we recognise the unique spiritual and cultural significance of land, water and all that is in the environment and the continuing connection and aspirations for Country of Aboriginal people and traditional custodians.
I would also, as Steve has done, like to acknowledge you as a community, recognising the impacts that these hotspots have had on each of you. I know at times over this journey, it must have felt like we at the EPA aren't on your side, but I want to let you know that that's not the case.
We have, and the team has, over the journey, been working diligently to get this issue dealt with as safely and as quickly as is possible. And hotspots are difficult issues to deal with. And the approach that's been taken is one that's been to a large degree relatively cautious, because we don't want in attempting to fix the problem, to actually make the problem worse.
But I think the report that we will talk about today -- hopefully, it goes through and show the amount of effort and focus this issue has had and I can assure you, continues to have for the EPA. But I know for some of you that it's taken 18 months, that it's still ongoing, that Barro Group is talking about another 12 months, it's deeply frustrating and disappointing. And I do want to acknowledge that. I think it's important that we as an organisation acknowledge that. And I do ask that -- when I tell you that we are committed to this and we have and continue to really focus on remediating this issue, getting these hotspots, removing these impacts from you, as quickly and as safely as we can, that is what our focus is. Today's session and tonight's session is really very much focused on the report that we have put together that really tells the story of the hotspots, but equally the actions that we've taken as an organisation, leading up to and post those hotspots.
It's a report that was requested by our minister, Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change and also the Minister for Solar Homes. I also know and I'm not sure if she is in attendance, but certainly Natalie Sulaman has been certainly a very, very strong advocate for this community into the EPA and I do want to acknowledge that she has raised this issue in parliament and has raised this issue directly with me and with the organisation over a number of times over the past 12 months. Or past 18 months.
We will hear today from a number of the team in the EPA who have worked very closely on this. And they will take you through elements of the report that we have produced and that we have released. That really, as I said, is the focus for today. It is the first, I think, session that we at the EPA have engaged with you directly without Barro Group in the room. And at the end, Andrew Sargeant -- and you may have seen on the agenda -- will want to have a conversation with you about how we best as an entity continue to engage with you through this process and bringing this process as quickly and as safely as we can to a conclusion.
So, that was a bit of an opening from me, Steve. I will be around all evening. And we will work through any questions as they arise, but I will hand back to you now.
- Thanks very much, Lee. Hopefully now you can see the agenda for tonight. Really wanted to focus in on four key areas for the evening.
First up, around our regulatory timeline. You will find lots of information in the report around that and to help us with some of that section, we will have our Director of Developments and Infrastructure, Mr Con Lolis, joining us. Next on the agenda we will talk through the hotspots issue in more detail and our regulation of that. And joining us for that we will have our Compliance, Enforcement Team Leader, Viranga Abeywickrema, which I know many of you are familiar with. And next on the agenda, we will focus on the odour, air quality and your health. Obviously there is a lot of information in the report and on the website there. Joining us there we have the Acting Deputy Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Jen Martin, who I know many of you have also met in previous forums.
Lastly on the agenda, as Lee said, we will hear from Andrew Sargeant, manager of our stakeholder solutions, about ongoing engagement and the best ways for you to stay informed as we move through the night.
Just a reminder, in case anyone has joined in the last few minutes, we will have a short question and answer time after each of those sections, to try and address as many of those questions as we move through the topics. This presentation will be recorded, the slides will be made available on the website for anyone there, and you can see the questions and answers on the right-hand side of your screen, and certainly press the thumbs up for a particular question of interest so we can make sure we're trying to address the most popular and wanted questions throughout the night.
So, first up on the agenda, we wanted to talk a bit about the regulatory timeline. Thank you very much for joining us, Con.
- Good evening, Steven.
- Maybe just to paint a picture, there is obviously a lot of text on this slide, but there is more detail in the report, which really shows the lifecycle of our regulation to date, right through from approvals in 2002 through more of the operational regulation, when the site really started operating as a landfill in 2014. And obviously, some details around the hotspots which began in November 2019, and some information around future steps, particularly some of the next steps throughout July and September.

I do want to acknowledge -- I know many of you have lived in the area and have a keen interest in the site before it was a landfill. So that's why we thought it was really important to include some of this information in the report, around our regulation right throughout the lifecycle.

In terms of the approvals -- I might throw to you, Con, to talk a bit more about these in detail.

- Thanks. Steven, I think it's important to note that this site was originally a quarry and used for extractive industry which was in fact very common in the 80’s and 90’s. It was only in August of 2001 that Barro Group in fact submitted a works approval application so they could establish what was then called a Solid Inert Landfill, and Solid Inert refers to a type of waste called Solid Inert Waste which is, in effect, hard waste mainly from municipal and industrial sources. EPA granted its works approval in February 2002, but with some fairly strict conditions, so much so it was only in June of 2009 that Barro Group then submitted a licence application and after a long process of Supreme Court and VCAT proceedings, a licence was ultimately granted in September 2013. As you mentioned, Steve, the landfill commenced operation in early 2015. EPA reviewed the licence in March 2017 and imposed some additional conditions and, Steve, those conditions are noted in pages 22 and 23 of the report. And I should also add that in August of 2018, at the request of Barro Group, some additional conditions were put in there specifically in relation to adding new cells four and five. To take us to current date, under -- of course, the new Environmental Protection Act commenced on 1 July, 11 days ago, and this licence has been transitioned into the new act.

I do want to point out, Steve, that under the new act, EPA must review all licences every four years. This is certainly one licence that will be high on EPA's list of review in that period. Thanks, Steve.

- Thank you, Con. Next on the timeline, we wanted to share some of the information in terms of more of the operational regulation of the site. So, really, from the time it began operating in 2014 onwards. I think the really important thing is that this landfill has been regulated really consistently, with all landfills across the state. But also using what we call a licence operator risk assessment model. I think in about 2012, EPA worked to develop this model, designed it based on international best practice, particularly some experiences in the United Kingdom around that to help us take the most risk based regulation of all licensed sites. So that model takes into account the activity, in this case, obviously, landfilling. It takes into account things like location, proximity to residents or other sensitive receptors and also considers compliance history and the like. All those things inform our regulation and compliance and assessment checking of the site.

What you can see on this slide is a diagram to help explain a few of the different checks and balances -- that it's not just EPA's own licence and EPA's own licence compliance inspections and assessments that take place; there are a number of rigorous conditions and expectations around Barro and any landfill operator, developing environmental monitoring programs, submitting annual performance statements and any notifications breaches. And EPA assesses all of these reports, as well as responds to pollution reports from you as public or other sources, and undertakes compliance inspections.

But also, as many of you heard through other forums, there are expectations and requirements around the use of EPA appointed environmental auditors. So, they are independent auditors that have obligations under the Environment Protection Act, and they have a really clear role in landfills, for assessing the operational running and requirements of those and there are a couple of audit reports that are publicly available on our website that have been run through that program. As you can see, before the hotspots issue came to life, we had three really key licence compliance assessments throughout those years from 2014 to 2018-19, and a key pollution report in September 2018 was really the focus of where our site assessment had been, as well as updating our best practice guidelines and other steps along the way.

Thank you. So, Con, I might throw back to you. I know have you have touched on some aspects of the operating licence transition. I know many in the community are aware we have issued a show cause notice to Barro with a response due the end of this week, that is around showing cause as to why they should not have their operating licence suspended. So, that process will -- we can't say too much further other than we will await Barro's response at the end of this week and determine next actions. But Con, was keen to invite you back and to talk about some of the key aspects of our new act and general duty and enforcement.

- Thanks, Steven. The main point is the third point, which is the introduction of the general environmental duty. And this is an incredibly transformative development in the law because what it does, it places the prevention of harm to human health and the environment at the centre of the laws. For the last 50 years, the laws have been predicated on the control of pollution. So the regulator’s task was to control pollution and control its effects. It really lacked the tools -- if I may now say -- to actually deal with risks and harm. So, Steven, it's an incredibly transformative set of laws that we now have. And all the ancillary laws including the powers of our officers are predicated on ensuring that the general environmental duty and the other preventive parts of the law are given full effect. As I indicated earlier, EPA intends to review this licence, word for word, condition for condition within the coming four years. I'm in fact in charge of that process, and we are putting together a project plan for that now. I can assure the community that licences of this nature are of the highest priority. Steve, was there anything else you would like me to remark on?

- Thanks, Con. I'm conscious of time. So, keen to get into the question and answer part of tonight for the regulatory timeline. I do note there are a number of really good questions that will be addressed in further sections. I'm just having a look for key ones relating to the regulatory timeline. Actually, there is one from Mario here that has got a few likes and relates to our approval to grant Barro Group a licence to operate the landfill. It talks about hotspots are widespread within the landfill industry, and the report and some quotes from page 12 in our report. And I guess the crux of the question is, hotspots are widespread within the industry, so why did EPA grant Barro Group a licence to operate a landfill so close to homes? Con, happy for you to provide anymore detail on our landfill approvals. But I guess the key thing I'd note, Mario, is that our approvals were issued taking into account the regulations and the law and the best practice guidelines at the time, which included consideration of buffer distances. And as you say there, there is clearly a focus on hotspots across the landfill sector. Con, was there anything else you wanted to share on that?

- No, I think you have it well covered, Steven, thank you.

- Thanks, Con. I might -- I think most other questions relate to information and sections, we will get into throughout the night. So, I would rather focus a bit more on getting to our hotspots information, and welcome Viranga Abeywickrema, our compliance and enforcement team leader.

- Thanks, Steve. Good evening, everyone. We talked a little bit about regulation of the landfill. I think now is a good time to start talking about hotspots and a little bit about landfill design. We won't go into too much detail, but I will talk a bit about the design of this particular landfill and it might give some context to what hotspots are and how they might have started.

In this slide, you can see a cross-section, it's a cross-section of this particular landfill, Kealba landfill. If you look on the right, you will see the Maribyrnong River to the east and then you will see to the western side, you will see a local road which is actually Sunshine Avenue. Inbetween, there is a quarry wall and you will see the landfill cells. This landfill is below ground in the quarry void. And it is a clay lined landfill, which means its base and side walls are clay. And above that clay layer is a drainage layer which is gravel. In the cross-section, you can actually see what we look for as a regulator in some of the risks we try to prevent. So, in this cross-section, you can see we're trying to protect the Maribyrnong River from waste that impacts on ground water because ground water ultimately flows to the river. And we're also trying to reduce impacts on homes through odours, we are trying to reduce the impacts on the community from litter emissions and dust and noise. So this site model gives you a bit of an indication of how landfills can impact on their surrounding neighbours. Hotspots in general are an area of hot waste below the landfill surface. And they can emit smoke and volatile gases that cause odours. The hotspots in this instance are quite deep seated. They are further towards the gravel drainage layer at the base of the landfill. And because they are deep seated, they're not something you can see. It's not a flame or it's not something that you can see smouldering on the surface of the landfill. It's approximately 15-20 metres deep. Symptoms of hotspots are what landfill operators are looking for and trying to prevent and those are often smoke and volatile gases and odours. The likely cause of the hotspots in this instance, because they are deep seated hotspots, is likely to be because of oxygen or air ingress into the base of the landfill. What we're seeing on the ground from our regular inspections and speaking to the site operator and their experts, is that it appears that the oxygen ingress has come from the gravel drainage layer beneath the waste, and that drainage layer was designed to capture leachate, that is generated from within the waste mass. And leachate is quite a potent liquid substance. It's not a good thing to have in a landfill. Generally, our regulations set maximum levels that landfills can have. In this instance, this landfill was compliant with our license conditions around how much leachate it could have. In actual fact, this landfill was quite dry. So that drainage layer was thought to being quite dry, and so not having leachate in it, may have been a pathway for oxygen to get in and generate — and oxygen’s one component of hotspot generation. You need heat, an organic substance to burn effectively and you need oxygen to help drive it. In this instance, it appears that the oxygen has come in there from the drainage layer and likely been a big supporting element to the hotspot generation.

We are doing regular inspections and we're regularly looking at the waste being pulled out of the landfill. In those inspections, we look at the waste and what we're seeing is what is consistent with burnt Solid Inert Waste. We're seeing that the landfill operator doesn’t appear to have taken on any illegal or toxic waste that’s been burnt. The typical demolition waste and municipal waste that has that been burnt. So it doesn't indicate there’s been any improper waste acceptance practices on the site. 

We will move on to the next slide. We have gone to a different angle on this slide. This is an aerial view of the landfill. To the south-west or to the left-hand bottom left corner, you can see Sunshine Avenue, McIntyre Road. To the north and the east is the Maribyrnong River. There are four landfill cells here, cell 1, cell 2, cell 4 and cell 5 north. They are the current four cells that are on this site and there are four hot spots that are generally indicated on the plan there. You can see hotspot 1 towards the east and hotspot 4 towards the west. Now, the four hotspots are located 15-20m deep in the waste as I said before. A key part of the regulation of this issue, because it's so deep, was understanding the extent of the hotspots. In November 2019, when we started receiving community reports of odour pollution and then Barro notified us of the discovery of hotspots, the EPA's first priorities were around preventing harm. So, understanding impacts on air quality. And then there was also about understanding more about the hotspots so the hotspots could be extinguished. A key part of extinguishing it was understanding the footprint of the hotspots. Through that, we served a clean-up notice on Barro Group and they drilled approximately 100 investigation wells to try and identify the extent of the hotspots. Through that process, they identified these four hotspots you see on the plan. After that, we sent additional notices that required Barro Group to develop a remediation strategy. That strategy was approved in consultation with our internationally recognised landfill expert. 

There is a current remediation strategy that basically involves digging up the hot waste and cooling it down. While that sounds like a simple process, it's actually quite complex because the waste is burnt, and there is risks that come from that in terms of subsidence of the ground-level in terms of generation of odours, in terms of generation of smoke, so there's a whole heap of risks that need to be managed throughout the process. It's quite a careful process that needs to be regulated. Waste is dug up. It's spread out over a temporary lay down area which on the plan you can see up in the top corner. That temporary lay down area is constructed clay pad with proper drainage to collect leachate and allow the waste to be spread out and cooled. Once the waste is cooled, it's been temperature checked consistently and been put back into the landfill again. Barro Group selected the current strategy based on the depth and location and stability of the waste, knowing that it can't be seen. So the remediation strategy is done through the bore hole drilling investigations and temperature checking. There is a lot of monitoring and measurements that have to be undertaken to try to visualise what is happening. We can't see it with our own eyes. 

Barro Group have made significant progress on three of the four hotspots. You can see hotspots 4, 3 and 2 towards the southern end of those cells. Hotspot 4 for all intents and purposes has been removed. So that's done. Hotspots 2 and 3 are almost towards the base of the landfill, almost towards that gravel drainage layer, only about 1.5m from the base. They are almost done with removing those two. But hotspot 1 is believed to be the one generating most of the odours you are smelling and it's suspected that might have grown and this is why Barro Group is doing additional works to try to investigate the extent of that hotspot.

Thanks. So, EPA's regulatory approach -- as I mentioned earlier, the first port of call when you contacted us in November 2019 was to prevent harm. That was emphasised through the air quality monitoring that commenced very shortly after the hotspots were discovered. And then it's been to reduce the odour and fix the hotspots. Unfortunately, reducing the odour is somewhat tied very strongly to fixing the hotspots as quickly and safely as possible. Ultimately you have been living with this for such a long time, 18-20 months. And those ongoing odours have been largely because of the hotspots. Some of the hotspots are still present and still generating odour emissions. Remediation is unfortunately excavating up that waste and potentially exposing it more to the atmosphere and making those odours a bit stronger.

EPA is really focusing on putting regulatory pressure on to Barro Group. That regulatory pressure is proportionate to the harm caused to you in the St Auburns and Kealba communities. We have heard from you about the impact it's having on your physical and mental health and wellbeing and have heard that loud and clear. Our regulatory approach is proportionate to that. We're doing regular targeted odour surveillance, compliance inspections, regulatory notices have been issued. We have issued five regulatory notices. We’re looking at the way we license the site, as Con talked about before in the review phases of the new act, and we have served sanctions as well. We're making sure everything that can be done is being done and our regular inspections are really about making sure that Barro Group does not slip and is doing everything it can. 

I'm probably running out of time. A key part of our regulatory notices have been about informing you about the issue and your health. So that's why through our notices, every one of our five notices served since December 2019 has required air quality monitoring to be carried out by Barro Group as well as them to do community engagement. We want to make sure we're reaching everyone impacted to provide up-to-date information.

- Thanks, Viranga. Just a word of warning, if we could try to move through the next couple of slides just so we can can get to the Q&A.

- Thanks. As I said, we have served five clean-up notices. And each one has been targeted to the emerging risks. We have not served just one and waited. It's been about targeted clean up notices at the risks because it's such a dynamic issue. We're taking on your feedback in each of these notices we draft and serve. We served an official warning in December 2019 for Barro’s late notification of the issue. We served an infringement notice for lack of daily cover which came from community information and we served a show cause notice to Barro Group as discussed before. We're in your community every week at least. We're checking compliance all the time. We're trying to make sure that Barro minimise the impacts as much as they can while they do this work. 

Finally, eliminating the hotspots. We are enforcing the first milestone that Barro Group missed in our clean up notices, the investigations and progress. We're also working with our co-regulators and fellow support agencies at MFE, work safe, local council, to gain expertise and independent experience to shape the air monitoring and remediation planning. And we're trying to adapt and influence better practice from Barro and learn as this process goes on.

- Thank you, Viranga. Appreciate that there is a lot of information obviously that we wanted to share on hotspots. Just having a look at the Q&A section here -- just wanted to note one from Anonymous at 8.09 p.m. saying, “Has the rubbish that is being exhumed at Kealba landfill been analysed for illegally dumped rubbish?” As you mentioned before, Viranga, our inspections regularly look at burnt material and waste acceptance procedures. The waste is all very consistent with that Solid Inert they are licenced to accept. Anything else you’d like to add on that?

- Last week we were on site. We saw some steam coming off some waste. We picked it up. It was quite warm. It was just the typical plaster board. I guess that's an example of just that typical waste that you -- like the normal typical waste can get warm.

- There is a good question with a few likes from Marion here earlier: The report indicated two possible entry points for oxygen into the cells. It sounds like issues with the landfill design. Another one: Will EPA allow the landfill to resume operation following hotspot remediation with the current design?

- Yes, definitely that's a key focus, Marion. The current notices are all about remediating the hotspots, but a future part of our regulation will be once the hotspots are out, how can waste go back into the landfill cells safely. Some of the controls that Barro Group need to do -- as we have spoken about before, there's a general environmental duty and that state of knowledge that we talked about in previous forums, and that state of knowledge about this issue and the causes is being built all the time. And Barro Group will be required to do everything that they can to deposit waste in the future in a safe manner.

- Thanks, Virange. I just reiterate, there is involvement of auditor verification through both our notices and also operational audits that will certainly require to look at any learnings and design issues as well as through any review of the licence as possible. Thank you. I think maybe just one more question here, from Anna. It looks as though: Both EPA and Barro are unable to establish the exact extent of the hotspots. Why have the EPA not requested the services of fire services Victoria to utilise their equipment to locate and monitor where the hotspots are and how they are extending? Would you like to share anymore on that?

- Yes. That's a good question. And we do, as I mentioned in the last slide, there is an interagency group. And Fire Rescue Victoria are part of that. Those discussions have been had. I think the difficulty is with the depth of the waste and the depth of the hotspots. The tools such as the drones and the thermal imaging can't actually visualise the heat that deep. The heat signatures are not turning up on those tools because it's just too deep.

- Thanks, Viranga. It’s probably worth reiterating that's why FRV, when they initially attended the site with us right at the start of the issue -- they couldn't do too much more there, but we're certainly discussing any and all options, and requirements for Barro to do further monitoring on the extent possible. Thank you, Viranga. In the interests of time, keen to move on and certainly it looks as though we have addressed some of the key questions on the hotspots and regulation there. Appreciate that. Next on the agenda, we wanted to talk about odour, air quality and your health. I’d like to welcome our Acting Deputy Chief Environmental Scientist, Dr Jen Martin.

- Thanks, Steve. As Steve mentioned, I'm here to speak and talk through those sections of the report in relation to odour, air quality and assessment of health risks. I just want to reiterate as Steve and Lee and Viranga also said, we have really acknowledged the impact that the odours have been having on the community. In particular, we have received over 800 pollution reports from members of the St Albans and Kealba communities. The map on the right hand side is an example of the clusters of reports we have been receiving, particularly throughout Kealba and St Albans south and east. With these odour reports, we're also hearing about symptoms people are experiencing such as headaches, sore throats, nausea, stinging eyes, triggering of asthma symptoms and impacts on mental health and wellbeing and quality of life. Really want to take this moment to reiterate if you are feeling unwell or distressed, please do seek support. We have reached out to general practitioners in the area and provided them with a fact sheet with the data and information we have to date. We have also put that information on the website so if for some reason your practitioner does not have a copy, you can point them to that information and discuss it with them. If they wish to speak to us and query that information further, we're more than happy to have those discussions.

So, I want to talk a little bit over the next couple of sections around what might be causing the odour and then also on to air quality monitoring and the results. As I have noted, the odours emitted from the hotspots and the remediation itself is contributing to the generation of odours. As Viranga said, we monitor the site regulatory and our observations with the EPA staff are very consistent with the observations of the community and in fact these are quite offensive odours. 

I want to touch on what an odour is. It's chemicals emitted from the hotspots that have very low odour thresholds. That means they can be detected by ourselves or humans at very low concentrations, often at concentrations that can't even be measured and are typically below health standards. But we do have physical reactions and experiences from them. They can stimulate receptors in our nasal cavities and subsequently into our -- stimulate our central nervous system. Can also stimulate sensory receptors in our respiratory tracts in our eyes. These are things -- it's how we have physical responses such as stinging eyes, nausea, headaches and triggering of asthma symptoms. Individuals -- odours are very subjective. Individuals will experience impacts quite differently. I think it's very important just for you to know and understand we really do understand that these are significant impacts and whilst they may not be posing a long term risk to health in the context of causing a specific disease, we very much acknowledge that living with this on a daily basis is very difficult. Symptoms will typical subside when the odours are gone. But if odours are around regularly, then you will be experiencing symptoms on a relatively regular basis. This is not appropriate. And it is the basis for the focus of our regulatory action.

So, I want to talk about the air quality monitoring, which is slightly different to the odours in the fact we do try to target those substances and chemicals that may pose long-term health risks. EPA initially deployed incident air monitoring in December 2019. And then required Barro Group to continue with the air quality monitoring and make sure the results are publicly available in full. They are on the Barro website. It targets four key indicator substances, particulate matter, which is often associated with smoke, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds. The monitor something undertaken at two boundary locations, on the northern boundary and western boundary to target those two key impacted communities of Kealba and St Albans and the results have been assessed against the international and national long-term air quality criteria. Also, as Viranga noted, we have used specialised thermal imaging equipment to try to identify sources of the odour release.

We're going to talk about the particulate monitoring results here. We do look to PM2.5 in particular because these particles are small enough to breathe deeply into your lungs and are known to cause health effects and they are an indicator of smoke. There's a large number of 24-hour data available from between July 2020 and October through to January 2021. Typically the results were below the 24-hour standards, particularly for the northern boundary for Kealba. There were some exceedances, along the west, along St Albans, some of these may be due to the hotspots themselves. They may also be due to machinery working in close proximity to the air quality monitoring results as well, or roadside emissions as well. EPA inspections have not typically observed large amounts of smoke being generated from the hotspots. But some smoke will be generated. And in addition, EPA's reviews of Barro's dust monitoring and management procedures along with other compliance inspections on a weekly basis.

So, I want to talk then to the volatile organics and mention as well around carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, results were all consistently below the national air quality standards. I'm focussing on the volatile organics. Monitoring was undertaken along the northern and western boundaries every three days. So one sample every three days, over 160 samples for each location. The monitoring that is undertaken is a U.S. EPA methods which includes 77 volatile compounds as a standard. That is -- it's a standard suite of chemicals that are analysed including some things typical of background, for example, freon, but it includes really important indicator compounds that are associated with combustion. Things like benzenes and what not.

All of the results were below the short-term guideline values. Because those types of effects that might be associated with irritation for example. And average concentrations were consistently below the long-term criteria. Where we have seen exceedences for example with benzene is on two occasions, on the northern boundary and two occasions on the western boundary. These exceedances occurred quite some time apart and for the most part, most results were below detection limits. There's a very low risk of long-term health impacts — over the longer term, when we see these small intermittent exceedances.

What do these results mean? The air quality monitoring indicates that it's very unlikely that air toxics will result in any long-term health risks to the community. It does not diminish the reality that the odours that are being generated from the hotspots are having a real impact on people's lives, on their physical wellbeing, that they are causing these symptoms. And that this is really a significant driver for our regulatory action. We're looking into investigating a broader and targeted air quality monitoring within the residential community. That is something that will be worked through, as I think Steve mentioned; there will be additional meetings in the next month or so where we look to do additional monitoring into the community. As Viranga mentioned, resolving the odour impacts is going to be aligned with elimination of hot spots. We appreciated your odour reports to help us understand more about what is occurring. We would ask for your persistence in that. Finally, just really to close off with a -- if you are experiencing -- if you are unwell, experiencing distress, please reach out to supports such as your local GP.

- Thank you, Jen. Just looking at the question and answers here. There are a couple in particular from Colin around PM2.5. One in particular is noting it's widely accepted any exposure to PM2.5 at any concentration for any duration is associated with negative health outcomes. So given that, Colin is interested in why has EPA down-played its health effects in the report? Perhaps, Jen, if you could talk to that and the standards around PM 2.5?

- Yes, look, it's not to down-play generation of PM2.5. It will be helpful to have that additional residential monitoring over the coming -- to look at that more in the coming weeks and months. The data we have to date is boundary data. We have really only seen exceedances along the western boundary for certain occasions where it would require the appropriate wind conditions and whatnot to exceed the exceedence well into the community. But it doesn't mean to say that individuals who are particularly susceptible to PM 2.5 might not be experiencing some issues associated with it.

- Thank you, Jen. I'm just looking at some of the other questions. I think the other question from Colin is perhaps noting there is no data provided in the report between December 2019 and 1 July 2019. And for August 2020 or beyond February 2021. So I guess probably just to remind people that Barro are publishing all of their air monitoring results on their website and EPA includes links on our website. But Colin will certainly have a look and see whether there is further monitoring information that can be made available to address any gaps there.

I'm just having a look. I don't think, Jen, there are too many others for you. Thank you very much for your time. I do note there was a few comments earlier in the night around what might have been causing the odours and gases. So, hopefully the information Jen shared there helps address some of those questions. But in the interests of time, I might go to our final section around staying informed. And invite our manager for stakeholder solutions, Andrew Sargeant.

- Thank you, mate. Thank you for passing over and firstly, thank you for everyone that's made the time to join us this evening. It's particularly important for us that what we do is make the information that's available as accessible as possible and we will continue to do that in the ways that best suit community. We will obviously take all of your questions from this evening. And we will either aggregate them up and publish them in the form of Q&As and where we can't do that, we will address them specifically. More importantly, we will look to work with community and those who have registered this evening and come along this evening to construct a way that we can continue to engage with you directly outside of the Barro forum. Mindful that what we need to be able to do is ensure the information that is most important to community is available. To that end, we will look to have a face to face formal forum in late August/early September, along with our partners across government, the fire services, local government, to ensure that, again, the relevant information is accessible in the forms that community would like them. Encourage everyone to, as seen on the slide, to continue to check in for information on the dedicated website. When you are experiencing odours, either correct them via the odour diary or the contact email address. Also, additional information is available via the Barro Group's webpage. Once again, I would like to thank everyone for coming along and reiterate that we will get to all of the questions we have not been able to get to tonight in the coming days. Thank you. Thanks, Steve.

- Thanks very much, Andrew. Just having a look at any further comments or questions. I do note, Mario, mentioning earlier that has got a few likes and a response around, "I thought this meeting was meant for residents to ask questions specific to the EPA report, not be told information we already know and have been told numerous times already.” And, "Very disappointed by this meeting.” I did want to acknowledge, Mario, that as Andrew said, this is a specific information session to firstly share the information and address obviously as many of the questions as we have been able to tonight. But there's lots of ongoing engagement to hopefully address your concerns further. And attempted to get to as many of those as possible. Just having a look for ... any further questions. There seems to be a few questions around the mention of the PM2.5 monitoring on the Barro website. So, we will certainly look into that and provide information around the PM2.5 monitoring as we said earlier. Thank you for bearing with me while I scroll the screen here just to see whether there's anything else jumping out that we haven't addressed. Perhaps one here from Virginia earlier in the night around we were told that new EPA laws are not retrospective. Can this be clarified whether the licence will be reviewed under the new laws as was mentioned by Con earlier? So perhaps just to clarify, I know in previous forums, Virginia, we have talked about elements of the law that can't be applied retrospectively to prior approvals. But that we can look at current operating licences. And we are looking at them to modernise them in line with the new act. But Con, anything in particular on that you would like to add?

- No, that's absolutely correct, Steven. Virginia, when we review the licence, which we will within four years, be assured it will be under the framework of the new laws.

- Thanks, Con. I'm conscious of time. I think we have certainly got to a lot of the questions with lots of thumbs up. Just to acknowledge, we do know there is obviously a lot of culturally and linguistically diverse communities living in and around Kealba and St Albans and we have obviously been working with our partner agencies to provide information and promotion of this session through to leaders there. But if people do need interpreter services, always available through the number there on the screen. And on that note, I'm going to let you get back to your Monday night. Really appreciate your time. Lee, were there any final words you wanted to mention?

- Thanks, Steve. Look, again, just to reiterate my thanks to everyone for participating tonight. There is a number of questions that have been asked as the team said, we will get a response to those as a priority. I know a number of those go to in effect what is the future of this site. And as Con has said, a review of the licence gets undertaken and compliance history is one of the considerations that goes into that review process. As does things such as state of knowledge. There are a number of factors that we will consider going forward. So thank you for tonight. I look forward to when we do get the opportunity to meet in person, as Andrew talked about. And certainly please be assured that we are on your side here. I know it may not feel like that all the time. But we do want to resolve this as quickly and as safely as we can. We certainly acknowledge the impact this is having on you is not acceptable. Just again, thank you all for your time tonight. And we will talk again. Thanks, Steve.

- Thank you, Lee. Thank you, all.

Jump to a section of the webinar

00:00:00 Introduction
00:02:44 Welcome EPA CEO
00:08:20 Agenda
00:10:50 Regulatory timeline
00:22:40 Hotspots
00:40:44 Odour, air quality and your health
00:53:19 Staying informed

Download the slide pack from the webinar (PDF)

About the webinar

EPA held an online community information session on Monday 12 July 2021 at 8:00pm - 9:00pm to discuss the report on the regulation of the Kealba Landfill

The report covers past, current, and future regulatory approaches and decisions with a particular focus on the current hotspots and odour issue impacting local community. The event focused on:

  • our regulating timeline
  • the hotspots
  • odour, air quality and your health
  • how to stay informed. 

Webinar Q&A

  • Size of the landfill

    Will EPA look to reduce the size of the operating landfill given that Barro has been unable to manage the landfill site to date?

    The size of the landfill footprint is established in the EPA works approval from 2001. Four landfill cells have currently been built at the landfill, and Barro Group will require approval from EPA to construct any future cells within the current approved landfill footprint. EPA will consider all options to ensure Barro is brought into compliance with its licence conditions and the Environment Protection Act 2017.

    Can Barro advise why they recently applied to increase the size of the Kealba Landfill with increased cells when they have been unable to manage the existing cells?

    This question is a matter for Barro Group to answer. The landfill operator is holding weekly online community information sessions every Wednesday evening at 8 pm. Details can be found on the Sunshine Landfill website.

  • PM2.5

    There is a trend over time that shows increase in PM2.5 concentration. This is consistent with uncontrolled expansion of hotspot fires and commencement of remediation works. Air quality monitoring commenced in 2019, however no data is provided in the report between December 2019 and 1 July 2019, August 2020 or beyond February 2021. Can we have all PM2.5 measurements so that we can benchmark this against the annual standard of 8ug/m3?

    EPA requested additional data from Barro Group which became available late last week and now includes sufficient data to be able to assess against the annual standard. EPA will review this information in line with established national health standards and provide any updated information to our website and factsheets.

    The Barro website does not cite PM2.5

    Website now updated with this data.

    Why does EPA insist on using odour to explain health effects? Care to comment PM2.5 data?

    What evidence do you have to claim PM2.5 is having very little impact? That’s not what the data in your report says.

    Why was the annual average standard excluded from the report?

    EPA stands by the report based on information available at the time. We requested additional data from Barro Group which became available late last week and now includes sufficient data to be able to assess against the annual standard. EPA will review this information in line with established national health standards and provide any updated information to our website and factsheets.

  • Air quality

    Where are the test results for carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and PM2.5 on the Sunshine landfill website?

    On EPA's request Barro Group have now updated its website with results of PM2.5, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide air quality monitoring from July 2020 to May 2021. EPA is reviewing this updated information in line with established national health standards and will provide any updated information through our website and factsheets.

    Why do you refer to the cocktail of noxious gases being released as an odour, they are more than an unpleasant smell?

    Detailed information on the air and odour monitoring can be found on the website and the publicly available health fact sheet. Combustion products from the hotspots have the potential to generate particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Odours are an indicator of the presence of VOCs from the hotspots. In December 2019, EPA performed air quality monitoring for these compounds in order to understand risks to the local community. EPA has required the landfill operator to perform ongoing air quality monitoring of these compounds since December 2019, and to continue to update community on the results of this monitoring. Odours are generated by chemicals released into the atmosphere that have a very low odour threshold. This means that they can be detected by humans at very low concentrations. EPA acknowledges that these chemicals are causing odours that are offensive and have resulted in community members experiencing health symptoms including sore throats, stinging eyes, breathing difficulties and mental health impacts. The release of chemicals that cause offensive odours is not appropriate and is the basis for our regulatory focus.

    Since December 2019 the EPA has relied on the Barro Group to take and forward their measurements of noxious gases to a national laboratory for analysis which is then forwarded to the EPA for review? Where is the rigour in testing that is needed for action for this community?

    EPA performed air quality monitoring in December 2019 at two residential locations within the local community. Since this time, the landfill operator has been required by an EPA clean up notice to continue to monitor air quality. Barro Group have engaged a suitably qualified environmental consultant, and a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory to undertake the sampling and analysis for this program. EPA specialists review the monitoring results regularly, have approved the current monitoring plan, and continue to advise on any ongoing improvements as needed. The results of the air quality monitoring are consistent with the EPA's own monitoring of air quality. Significant penalties apply under the Environment Protection Act for the interference with monitoring equipment, or the presentation of false or misleading information to the Authority.

    Why has it taken EPA so long to produce odour diaries if there has been constant contact with Natalie Suleyman and why was this not organised through her office?

    Odour diaries are one tool EPA uses to gather information from local communities impacted by odour. These diaries help us identify an odour source, characterise the nature of the odours, and understand more about its impacts. The information community provides us can also be used as evidence in any compliance and enforcement action that EPA may take. EPA has been gathering information provided by the local St Albans and Kealba communities through pollution reports made using our Pollution Hotline and by email. After listening to feedback from members of the local community, we have published these odour diaries in an effort to provide a streamlined option for community members to provide us with this valuable information. Odour diaries are available for download on EPA's website by all members of the Victorian community impacted by odour.

    Could air quality monitoring conditions please be applied to the licence following the extinguishing of fires?

    EPA will provide future consideration to this matter once hotspots at the landfill have been fully remediated.

    Where do we find monitoring results?

    The Sunshine Landfill website has now been updated by Barro Group to include results for PM2.5, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide from July 2020 to May 2021. EPA will review this information in line with established national health standards and provide any updated information to our website and factsheets.

  • Health

    We have had stinging eyes over the last 4 days. Could it be caused by the odours?

    EPA has heard from some local community members who have reported symptoms such as:

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

    Further information on potential health impacts, a summary of the evidence and monitoring results, and explanation of the low risk posed to long-term community health is detailed in EPA’s information sheet, Health information for Kealba odour issues. This fact sheet has been distributed to local GPs to help address residents’ concerns about potential health impacts.

    If you feel unwell or distressed help and support is available: 

    • call NURSE ON CALL on 1300 60 60 24
    • visit a doctor
    • visit Head to Health to find digital mental health resources from trusted service providers including
  • Hotspots

    Can EPA confirm if the hotspots were started by inert waste or batteries?

    More information about the cause of the hotspots is also being gathered as remediation progresses. The Kealba landfill hotspots are likely to be a result of oxygen entering the landfill and combusting with old, decomposing waste. Two pathways are likely to have contributed to oxygen entering the landfill: the exposed, external side walls of the landfill; and the leachate drainage layer underneath the waste mass. Hotspot remediation works have recently exposed the leachate drainage layer of Cell 2 in the landfill. Barro has informed EPA that no leachate was found saturating this drainage layer. The presence of burnt waste immediately above this drainage layer indicates that oxygen may have entered through the leachate drainage network, and fuelled hotspot growth.

    International research on hotspots together with Victorian experience indicates that landfill fires caused by batteries typically occur at the landfill surface or shallower depths. The hotspots at the landfill are located deep within the waste.

  • EPA licence and regulation

    Are Barro still taking new landfill while this matter is not resolved?

    Barro Group stopped accepting waste to the landfill on 23 December 2020.

    Why did you approve a landfill so close to homes?

    EPA approved the works approval in 2002 and the licence in 2013 by determining that the site and landfill met the relevant conditions, laws, regulations and State Environment Protection Policy (Siting and Management of Landfills Receiving Municipal Wastes) in force at the time. This included considering the outcomes of legal appeals to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and the Supreme Court, which upheld the site’s original planning permit and allowed filling of the quarry hole with solid inert waste.

    EPA’s works approval assessment approval process included public advertisement and referrals to Brimbank City Council, Department of Human Services, Western Regional Waste Management Group, Melbourne Water, Department of Primary Industries and Southern Rural Water. This included advice from Brimbank City Council that the site held a planning permit that permitted filling of the quarry hole with solid inert waste.

    In 2009 when EPA received a licence application for the site we sought assurance from local council as the relevant authority that the site held the appropriate planning permits. Legal challenges then took place on whether the site’s permit (original or existing) did or did not allow deposit of waste to landfill. The site’s original planning permit was upheld, and EPA considered this as part of the licence assessment.

    Further information can be found in Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s regulation of Kealba landfill (publication 1985).

    As per page 10 of EPA’s report, “Currently no active landfill gas collection, or management system is in place at the landfill” – how can Barro be given a licence to operate when there is no gas management system and when gas can exacerbate hotspots and where gas levels are used as an indicator for the presence of hotspots as mentioned on pages 12 and 24 of EPA’s report?

    A landfill gas management system is designed to manage risks posed by landfill gas rather than prevent landfill hotspots. EPA's landfill licensing guidelines recommend that operators shut down any landfill gas extraction systems in areas affected by hotspots, as these systems can draw in air, which can further fuel hotspots. Barro Group have proposed to install a landfill gas management system that will comprise of gas collection within waste under the final landfill cap, with a treatment system to be designed based on landfill gas flow and concentration at the landfill. In accordance with EPA's Landfill BPEM (publication 788), a landfill gas management system should be progressively installed during the operational period of a landfill. The selection of a landfill gas management method should be based on an ongoing process of landfill gas risk assessment. EPA investigations have determined that landfill gas management will be required to be designed and progressively implemented following completion of hotspot remediation. This will be the subject of future EPA remedial notices.

    As mentioned in EPA’s report…“As the height of the exposed sidewalls increases, the gradient of the slope of these walls is also likely to increase. This can present challenges for earthmoving plant to access, and properly compact the sidewall fill material. Inadequate compaction of the exposed sidewalls of the landfill could provide a pathway for oxygen ingress into the landfill.” – pg. 13. If EPA are aware of the challenges of compacting sidewall fill material, then how could they have granted Barro a licence to operate a landfill so close to homes?

    This is a learning through the current hotspots issue and subsequent to initial approvals. EPA will use any learnings from this issue to inform future reviews of landfill guidance and standards, and will consider all options to ensure Barro is brought into compliance with its licence conditions and the Environment Protection Act 2017.

    Why were we told at the last forum by Barro that the EPA is responsible for the delay in remediation? Can EPA ensure that red tape is not responsible for our ongoing distress, especially considering this last 7 days has been absolutely horrendous.

    EPA has not delayed the remediation and continues to check and enforce the current clean up notice. We expect that Barro Group will continue its work to extinguish the hotspots as quickly and safely as it can in accordance with this. Our approval of the remediation plan required us to consult our experts and thoroughly review plans in order to prevent harm to the community, and ensure the best strategy was being used to remediate the hotspots as quickly and safely as possible.

    EPA continues to work with interagency partners at Fire Rescue Victoria, WorkSafe, and Brimbank City Council, as well as commissioning independent analysis from experts to provide advice on any additional measures that can be taken to extinguish the hotspots at the landfill faster and minimise odours during the process.

    Will EPA ensure that the landfill is fully remediated before handing the landfill back to Brimbank Council?

    EPA will consider all options to ensure Barro is brought into compliance with its licence conditions and the Environment Protection Act 2017. EPA will continue to regulate the post-closure management of the landfill regardless of ongoing management responsibilities for the site.

    If modern technology cannot be used to monitor the landfill effectively so close to people’s homes, why is the landfill allowed to operate to the depths approved by the EPA?

    EPA's licence requires Barro Group to take measures to prevent, respond to, and manage landfill hotspots. EPA will consider all options to ensure Barro is brought into compliance with its licence conditions and the Environment Protection Act 2017.

  • Leachate

    Where does the leachate drain eventually?

    The gravel leachate drainage layer at the base of each landfill cell drains to a sump. The landfill operator will typically pump leachate collected in sumps within the landfill cell to a leachate storage pond for treatment and disposal. Disposal of leachate can occur through discharge to the sewer system under a 'Trade Waste Agreement' with the local water authority, or through collection and offsite disposal by a waste contractor.

    Why would the leachate be dry if this is not usual?

    A number of factors could contribute to the lack of leachate in the landfill cell. These include:

    • reduced ingress of rainfall
    • runoff to the landfill cells
    • the ability of waste to absorb / capture leachate
    • the extraction of leachate from the landfill by the landfill operator.

Reviewed 27 May 2021