- Incident Date
- 7 March 2022
- Locations Affected
- Western metro
The waters of Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake are slowly improving after a major spill of a detergent reported on 7 March.
EPA monitoring has confirmed clean-up efforts have successfully reduced pollution levels. Melbourne Water is now removing upstream bunding and ceased pumping water to sewer on 28 April to restore normal water flows to the Cherry Creek catchment which is expected to improve water quality and help recovery. Recent rainfall since 18 April has also returned oxygen levels in the creek back to normal.
EPA has also advised that it is safe to swim at Altona Dog Beach. EPA had previously issued precautionary advice asking people not to swim at Altona Dog Beach.
The waters of Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake are improving after being contaminated by a chemical detergent known as Teric N9. The detergent came from a spill of approximately 12-13,000 Litres which was mostly contained in concrete stormwater drains and the Hume retarding basin downstream of an industrial site in Laverton North.
Melbourne Water has completed significant clean up operations removing approximately 20 tonnes of dead fish from Cherry Lake and entrance from the creek to the bay, and 36 megalitres (ML) of contaminated and washdown water pumped to sewer.
In another good sign for the ongoing ecological recovery, EPA monitoring is showing levels of the contaminant in Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake have decreased significantly in recent weeks.
Warning signs will remain in place around Cherry Lake and Creek and EPA continues to warn the public to avoid contact with the waters and fish of Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake, south of Kororoit Creek Road as a precaution.
EPA will continue to work with the duty holder, so they can meet their obligations. EPA continues to provide scientific advice to partner agencies through sampling and analysis of waters and sediment to inform clean up operations.
Compliance and enforcement
An investigation is ongoing into this incident and any breaches of the law.
EPA has issued an Environment Action Notice to Melbourne Transport and Warehousing Group to require:
- Immediate controls and containment measures
- A Clean Up Plan
- Removal of contaminant from Cherry Creek and stormwater drainage
- Daily reporting on compliance
EPA is continuing to regulate Melbourne Transport and Warehousing Group to ensure appropriate ongoing monitoring, clean up and recovery, and stakeholder engagement, takes place. EPA is also working with WorkSafe to regulate activities at the site and ensure all practicable measures are taken to prevent risks.
Environmental monitoring and actions
EPA has conducted extensive water sampling of Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake. The most recent sample analysis results of water taken on 20 April, 2022 (samples take several days to test) indicate that the pollutant, nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), level have been dropping from the initial 50,000 - 1,300,000 ug/L from different sampling sites, to below 30 ug/L level in the Cherry Creek system. This confirms that the high concentrations of pollutants upstream of Hume Drain have successfully reduced to below 100 ug/L level by extensive flushing and the high pressure washing process.
These most recent sample analysis results are safe for primary and secondary contact recreation, however remain above safe levels for aquatic life in all sections of the waterway. Warning signs remain in place around the Creek and Lake. EPA continues to warn the public to avoid contact with the waters and fish of Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake south of Kororoit Creek Road as a precaution.
EPA continues to conduct a weekly cycle of water sample collection at multiple locations along the waterway.
Refer to the Cherry Creek chemical spill science report for more information.
Avoid contact with waters at Cherry Lake and Cherry Creek. Do not eat or collect the fish from the waters. Contact may lead to some skin irritations for sensitive people. If you need medical advice after exposure:
call Nurse on Call on 1300 606 024 or call your doctor.
You should keep your pets away from the water and stop them from eating the fish. If you have any concerns for your pets’ health, please check with your vet.
EPA has conducted several community information sessions, including:
- 22 March, 2022, EPA hosted an information night for the residents of Altona to update them on the ongoing clean-up works at Cherry Lake and Creek. During the meeting, EPA committed to making the presentation(PDF 2MB) publicly available and answers to community questions from that event can be found at the bottom of this page.
- 27 April, 2022 at Cherry Lake, to provide the community with the latest information regarding the removal of bunding, return of normal water flows and the reduction in pollution.
- 3 April, 2022 Melbourne Water and EPA staff attended theCherry Lake Reserve Sunday Market, attendees asked mainly about the status of Cherry Lake water quality and when the lake might return to pre-incident condition.
Further engagement meetings are planned as the Lake and Creek return to normal use. This page and EPA's social media platforms will have updated information.
The following services can help you, or someone you know, access information during an emergency.
- To access this information in other languages call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450 (freecall) and ask them to call VicEmergency Hotline.
- If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech/communication impairment contact National Relay Service on 1800 555 677 and ask them to call the VicEmergency Hotline.
Questions and answers
This pollution event is affecting Cherry Creek and Lake. While investigations into the incident are still ongoing, it is understood a chemical spill of up to approximately 12,000 to 13,000 litres of a detergent being stored at Melbourne Transport and Warehousing factory site in Laverton North, led to some of that material entering the drainage system and flowing into the creek. The spill has also resulted in many fish deaths.
EPA advises that people should avoid contact with the water, and do not collect or eat the fish from Cherry Creek or Cherry Lake. Keep your pets away from the water and do not let them eat the fish.
The detergent is known as ‘Teric N9’, and it has a main ingredient called ‘nonylphenol ethoxylate (pronounced ‘NON-ill-FEE-nol eth-OX-ill-ate) also known as NPE)’. It is used in shampoos, cosmetics, cleaning products and has many industrial uses. NPE is very toxic to fish, because high concentrations in water cause oxygen levels in the water to drop. The impacts of concentrated Teric N9 on humans can include skin irritations and eye damage. It is harmful if swallowed. For this reason, EPA has been issuing precautionary advice for people and their pets to avoid contact with the water.
EPA and partner agencies including Melbourne Water, WorkSafe and the Hobsons Bay City Council take this matter very seriously. EPA has commenced an investigation into how this contamination occurred and any potential breaches of the law. EPA and WorkSafe have also issued legal notices to require appropriate management actions by the duty holder, Melbourne Transport and Warehousing Pty Ltd. Melbourne Water is leading the fish clean-up and initial cleaning of the stormwater drains, with assistance from EPA and other agencies.
Melbourne Water and specialist contractors engaged by Melbourne Transport and Warehousing started the clean up on 7 March, as soon as the incident was reported. EPA has been working closely with Melbourne Water to provide assistance with the clean-up and has issued an Environmental Action Notice to Melbourne Transport and Warehousing to require appropriate containment, management, clean up and reporting. A significant amount of clean up is already complete by Melbourne Water and Greater Western Water in the stormwater and drain catchments worst affected near Laverton North, and they are currently finalising their Clean Up Plan as required by EPA which will confirm further works and timing.
At 28 April, 2022, 23 tonnes of dead carp (and some eels) have been removed from the impacted waters. All dead fish have been disposed of in an appropriate licensed facility.
Ultimately whoever was responsible for the incident will be responsible for the clean-up. To address the immediate impacts, Melbourne Water has taken the lead on cleaning up the waterways and removing the dead fish. EPA is assisting with monitoring water quality from Cherry Creek and Lake.
We are seeing good progress. While the initial clean-up of the dead fish has taken some weeks, the overall recovery of the Creek and Lake to pre-pollution incident levels is likely in June on current observations. EPA continues to undertake sampling and analysis of both water and sediments within the affected area. These sampling results will determine the effectiveness of the clean-up operations and inform any further works that may be required.
That is the detergent, it foams up when high pressure water is added to it. As Melbourne Water wash out the drains, they are being careful not to apply too much high-pressure water to the remaining detergent.
How long would it have taken for the chemical to get to the dog beach, as the signs were only put up more than 10 days after the event?The primary concern, and reason for signage at the dog beach, was decomposing fish, ingestion of dead fish (which would likely have contained higher concentrations of the chemical) by pets, and bacteria associated with decomposing fish in the water. Dead fish were not initially observed beyond the lake during the initial incident and were not present at the beach until much later. Signs were erected at Altona Dog Beach once EPA observed fish carcasses were present at the beach. EPA testing has confirmed there are no contamination or bacteria concerns in this area and these signs have now been updated to advise it is safe to swim at the Altona Dog Beach.
Key health messages are the same:
- Do not eat or collect (touch) the fish
- Do not let your pets eat or collect the fish
- Avoid contact with the water, it may cause skin irritation in individuals sensitive to detergents
Water testing is being conducted at Altona Dog Beach as this is next to where Cherry Creek flows into Port Phillip Bay. The water is now safe for swimming at Altona Dog Beach.
The detergent is known as Teric N9, the main ingredient being nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE). NPE will degrade with sunlight, oxygen and bacteria. EPA is investigating the by-products of NPE and further work is required to understand NPE in the sediments of Cherry Creek and Lake. EPA has undertaken sediment sampling and is currently awaiting analysis results.
Will you make the real time data available to the public? As the EPA beach report is now closed, there is no way of us finding more about the water quality over time, ie after rain?We appreciate the desire by the Altona community for up-to-date information, and it is our priority to provide information that is meaningful. The samples and data being collected from Cherry Creek and Lake require analysis and interpretation for it to be meaningful. For this incident, measurements of the contaminant NPE require laboratory analysis, which typically takes 5-7 days to complete. Once our scientists receive and interpret the results of that analysis, we can provide a meaningful update of the water quality to the community, and use the data make operational decisions (eg whether we need to update signs, alter our testing plans, test other areas, etc). EPA will continue to monitor water quality in both Cherry Creek and Lake until concentrations of NPE return to the levels that would be expected in similar urban creeks.
This will be determined after the clean-up process is complete and authorities have the necessary testing results to make the correct decisions. Melbourne Transport and Warehousing have indicated a willingness to work with community on any restocking opportunities.
Reviewed 9 September 2022