Current issues

West Footscray / Tottenham fire recovery


Tuesday 20 November 2018

We are advising residents of West Footscray, Kingsville and Yarraville that this week’s forecasted heavy rain is likely to raise odour levels around Stony Creek. More information.

We are working closely with Maribyrnong City Council and Melbourne Water to restore Stony Creek and the surrounding environment as quickly as possible.

We are continuing to monitor the environment in the affected areas and provide advice around the potential human health impacts.

The blue line shows the local waterway Stony Creek.

Health information

The current advice is:

  • The remediation work being conducted by Melbourne Water has removed much of the black sludge and contaminated water in or on the edge of the creek. But if you come into contact with contaminated water or sludge, remove wet clothing and wash the relevant areas of your body that have touched it with warm soapy water.
  • Water quality is much improved but we still recommend avoiding contact with water in Stony Creek.
  • EPA has been made aware that recent rain may have mobilised contaminants along Stony Creek. It is still recommended to avoid contact with water in Stony Creek and any signs of oily sheen or contamination along the waterline.
  • Odour levels from the creek have decreased but are still present at times. Avoid the odour if it makes you feel unwell.
  • As a precaution avoid eating fish from Stony Creek.
  • Don’t let pets swim in the area or drink the water.
  • Seek medical help if you feel unwell.

Environmental monitoring

Air Quality

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

VOCs are a large group of chemicals that contain carbon and give off vapours into the air. This includes chemicals such as ethanol, acetone, xylene, benzene and toluene. VOCs have a low odour threshold and can be smelt even at low concentrations. It is VOCs that can sometimes be smelt near Stony Creek.

Long term health effects are not expected from short term exposures to VOCs.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) air sampling along Stony Creek

Air samples have been collected and analysed in residential and sensitive areas near Stony Creek. Any chemical odour in this area was due to the vapours or VOCs coming from the chemicals in the creek from the water run-off from the fire site.

Levels of VOCs in the air samples have all been well below health guideline levels.

Due to an increase in odours after the recent rains mobilized sediments along the creek, EPA will be testing for VOCs on 16 November and again in the following week.

Asbestos

There was asbestos containing building materials at the site of the fire, so 24-hour airborne asbestos sampling and testing was carried out on 31 August at various locations near the fire site. Further samples have been taken over a 24-hour period on another four occasions.

Results from asbestos monitoring so far have all been below the limit of detection.

Future airborne asbestos monitoring will be done when high winds are forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology during major demolition and clean-up activities.

Particles

While burning, large amounts of smoke was generated by the fire. EPA monitored the levels of fine particles (PM2.5) near the fire at Footscray, Altona and Brooklyn, as part of EPA’s standard air monitoring network.

The 24-hr average levels of fine particles during the fire did not reach unhealthy levels in the community.

Water quality

This update includes water quality data from 30 August to the most recent available test results, collected on 7 November.

Overview

We have tested water for a range of pollutants from the Stony Creek area and continue to advise not to eat fish taken from Stony Creek. However, based on the results of testing of water quality, there are no concerns regarding fishing and other recreational activities in the Lower Yarra River and Hobsons Bay. We advise to avoid contact with the water and sludge in Stony Creek and to keep pets from swimming or drinking the water.

The results show that a range of industrial chemical solvents, detergents and fire soot particles were washed into Stony Creek. The key chemicals detected were phenol (an industrial chemical and cleaning product), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (fire and soot by-products), chemicals called BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), PFAS, and industrial solvents such as acetone and butanone.

Concentrations of these chemicals were very high in Stony Creek on Thursday 30 August and caused rapid death of fish and aquatic life in Stony Creek and in some cases exceeded human health recreational contact guidelines for several days after the fire.

Latest results

Conditions in Stony Creek have improved considerably since then due to dilution by creek flows, chemical degradation and clean up undertaken by Melbourne Water, including pumping water from the creek. The latest available testing shows that water quality for Cruickshank Park and Hyde street is generally good and below human health recreational water quality guidelines for recreational contact. However, concentrations of xylene in the water remain above aquatic ecosystem guidelines, which are much lower than the human health guidelines. Until recently, toluene and ethylbenzene also exceeded the ecosystem guidelines but by 25 October, these were at acceptable levels.

Heavy rainfall during Melbourne Cup Day saw 28.4mm falling within 3 hours in Spotswood and another 8mm on 7 November. The creek subsequently rose from 0.12m to 2m at peak flood on 6 November and to 1m high on 7 November. High flows such as this usually result in flushing and dilution of contaminants in waters and sediment redistribution and deposition further downstream. EPA officers were on site during the rain and reported there that was no contaminated runoff from the fire site to Stony Creek. They also carried out inspections at downstream locations as well as collecting water samples on 7 November and sediment samples on 8 November. The results from this sampling are presented below where available.

Results from regular water quality monitoring at fixed sites in Stony Creek

Results for monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (MAH) at the upstream site (Quarry Rd), the fire site and two downstream sites from 30/8/2018 to 25/10/2018, are shown in the graphs below. The red and green lines indicate recreational water quality and aquatic ecosystem guidelines, respectively. 

The site at Cruickshank Park was also sampled on 7 November, just after the Cup Day rain event. The results from this site shows water quality was very similar to that recorded previously, with relatively low levels for all chemicals.

 

Results for acetone, methylethylketone, phenol and PFOS at the upstream site (Quarry Rd), the fire site and two downstream sites from 30/8/2018 to 25/10/2018 are shown in the graphs below. The red and green lines indicate recreational water quality and aquatic ecosystem guidelines, respectively. Note, acetone and methylethylketone do not have aquatic ecosystem guidelines.

The site at Cruickshank Park was also sampled on 7 November. The results from this site shows water quality was very similar to that recorded previously, with relatively low levels for all chemicals.

 

Sediment quality

This update includes sediment quality data from 11 September to the most recent available test results collected on 18-19 October. We sampled sediments on 8 November but at the time of publishing, these results were only just received and subject to further interpretation.

EPA has tested sediments in the creek for two purposes:

1) targeted sampling to help answer specific questions needed to guide the clean-up operations by Melbourne Water and in response to specific events, and

2) to monitor changes over time in contaminants introduced to the creek due to the fire.

The reporting we have done previously has been aimed at the second purpose and we will continue to do this. This update also includes results aimed at meeting the first purpose, helping to better guide the creek clean-up being carried out by Melbourne Water by better defining where the contaminated sediment is. When the data is available we will report on how sediment conditions have changed after the high flows on 6 November.

Results from the targeted sampling

How deep does the contamination extend?
We sampled the surface and deeper (5-10 cm) sediments in Stony Creek at the following locations: (1) Victoria Drive (the fire site), (2) upstream of Paramount Road, (3) near Beaumont Parade/Cala Street and (4) Cruickshank Park near Adaleigh Street.

Contaminated sediments from the fire site appear limited to the surface layer with levels of contaminants in some cases 10 times that found just a few centimetres deeper. Deeper areas have more consolidated sediments with natural organic matter and concentrations of contaminants typical of urban creeks with historical and recent industrial land use practices. The concentrations of many of the contaminants are expected to reduce with increased natural sediment runoff, dilution with streamflow’s and biological degradation over time. It also means that the clean-up work being undertaken by Melbourne Water can focus on just the top few centimetres.

Are different areas within the creek more contaminated than others?
Streams tend to have two main zones within the stream channel. One is the narrow, shallow, more rapidly flowing areas (often called riffles); the other is the slower-flowing, wide and deeper pool areas. The rapid flows in riffles make them erosional and tend not to allow sediment or other material to settle. Pools on the other hand are more depositional in nature, allowing sediment, leaves and other material to settle and accumulate.

The pool sections of the creek upstream of Somerville Road and Francis Street tend to have higher contaminant concentrations from the deposition of sediments washed downstream from the fire site. This is not unexpected and means that Melbourne Water can focus on the pool areas rather than the riffle areas where there is little contamination.

What is the level and nature of sediment contamination in the Stony Creek Backwash?
Parks Victoria requested EPA to test the sediments in the Stony Creek Backwash as the juvenile mangroves were dying off. EPA collected sediments from three locations: a reference site on the upper mudflats which Parks considered possibly less affected by the contamination from the fire, and two potentially more impacted sites along the eastern bank of the Backwash, near the Yarra River.

Concentrations of hydrocarbons in the Backwash adjacent to the Yarra River were slightly higher relative to the reference site on the upper mudflats, with some contaminants being 2 – 5 times higher in the former locations. Other contaminants, including copper and lighter petroleum hydrocarbons (C6-C10) do not appear to have increased relative to the reference site. Herbicides were found in the sediments here although at much lower levels than those found closer to the fire site.

Results from regular sediment sampling at fixed sites in Stony Creek

Overview
EPA has tested sediment at fixed locations for a range of pollutants from the Stony Creek area since 11/9/2018. Initially, concentrations of hydrocarbons in sediments in Stony Creek at Cruickshank Park were above human health recreational water quality guidelines.

Although contaminant levels in the sediment have declined, disturbing the sediments would mobilise contaminants and could increase the risk of harm to the environment and human health if touched. EPA continues to advise to avoid contact with the creek in Cruickshank Park until further notice.

PFOS, copper and C6-C10 (which includes the BTEX chemicals) and C10-C40 hydrocarbons in sediments at site upstream of the fire and two downstream locations from 11/9/2018 to 27/9/2018 are shown in the graphs below. The red lines for PFOS and C6-C10 hydrocarbons indicate recreational water quality guidelines. The green lines for copper and C10-C40 hydrocarbons indicate aquatic ecosystem guidelines.

Latest Results
The results for Cruickshank Park (18/10/2018) collected as part of the targeted sampling shows that sediment contamination has improved, but concentrations of copper and C10-C40 remain above aquatic ecosystem guidelines for sediments.

The site at Cruickshank Park was also sampled on 8 November, soon after the Cup Day rain event. The preliminary analysis of results from this site are not shown here as they are undergoing further interpretation but suggest that levels of contaminants in the sediments may have declined significantly. Sampling carried out on 15 November at all fixed sites will confirm the extent of this change.

Notices issued to factory site owners

EPA has also issued a number of notices on the owners of the West Footscray factory fire site.

The notices are an important part of the recovery phase of the incident and aim to secure the site and prevent any further contamination of Stony Creek.

The notices require the site owners to inspect the property daily to check on any materials stored there, install security fences, keep access ways clear, and ensure controls, including contingencies for rainfall, are in place so no run off can enter stormwater drains.

The owners will be required to regularly report their progress to the EPA.

If the notices are not complied with the owner could be fined more than $48,000 plus $8,000 for every day the works are overdue.

Recovery plan

EPA, working closely with Maribyrnong City Council and waterway managers have commenced development of a recovery plan for Stony Creek and surrounding areas.

The recovery of Stony Creek and surrounds will take some time, but the Council, supported by EPA will let you know when it’s no longer necessary to avoid contact with the water and how you can be involved in the recovery effort.

EPA and Melbourne Water have placed additional information signs in public access space to keep community informed and further signage will continue to be installed as needed.

Community advice signage onsite as part of the West Footscray recovery plan

Further information

 

Disclaimer: EPA monitoring data in support of the West Footscray/ Tottenham fire recovery is preliminary data.  EPA has made every reasonable effort to provide current and accurate information, but it does not make any guarantees regarding the accuracy, currency or completeness of that information/data.  This data has not been subject to quality control procedures and is subject to change at any time and is provided for general guidance only and should not be relied on as a complete statement.

Additional advice and information + Expand all Collapse all

  • Health concerns from the fire

    EPA has been responding to community concerns from the fire.

    Residents are still advised to avoid all contact with creek water and keep pets away from Stony Creek.

    • EPA has been made aware that recent rain may have mobilized contaminants along Stony Creek. It is still recommended to avoid contact with water in Stony Creek and any signs of oily sheen or contamination along the waterline.
    • If you are feeling unwell, seek medical advice or call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24.

    Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

    Stony Creek has been impacted by fire water runoff. During the fire, strong odours were coming from water near the site of the fire and around Cruickshank Park. Odours can still be smelt in the area, especially after rain when higher flows stir up the sediments.

    VOCs are a large group of chemicals containing carbon and give off vapours into the air. This includes chemicals such as ethanol, acetone, xylene, benzene and toluene. VOCs can be produced when things containing carbon are burned and are commonly found in smoke. VOCs are also found in paints, glues and other products used in the home or workplace. VOCs have a low odour threshold and can be smelt even at low concentrations.

    Long term health effects are not expected from short term exposures to VOCs.

    VOC Air sampling along Stony Creek

    Air samples were collected and analysed in residential and sensitive areas near Stony Creek. The chemical odour in this area was due to the vapours or VOCs coming from the chemicals in the creek from the water run-off from the fire site.

    Levels of VOCs in the air sampled were all well below health guideline levels.

    Asbestos

    Concerns were held about asbestos containing building materials at the site of the fire.

    During the fire itself, asbestos was not expected to pose a health risk to the surrounding community.  This is because during a fire the amount of asbestos fibres released into the air is relatively low.

    24-hour airborne asbestos sampling and testing was undertaken at various locations in residential areas near the fire site.

    Results for monitoring of asbestos so far have all been below the limit of detection.

    Particulates

    While burning large amounts of smoke could be seen from the fire.

    EPA monitored the levels of fine particles (PM2.5) near the fire at Footscray, Altona North and Brooklyn, as part of EPA’s standard air monitoring network. Short term air monitoring for PM2.5 was also undertaken at Altona Gate, Altona and West Footscray. These particles have a very small diameter and can be breathed into the lower parts of the lungs where they can cause greater harm. PM2.5 is a good indicator of air quality during smoke events and can be used to assess potential health consequences. 

    The 24-hr average levels for fine particles during the fire did not reach unhealthy levels. 

  • Waterways

    EPA, local government and MFB officers worked hard to contain the flow of fire water used to battle the fire, but significant run off has made it into local waterways.

    Stony Creek has been impacted by fire water runoff. Strong odours are still at times coming from water near the site of the fire and down to Cruickshank Park. Odours can be especially bad after rain when higher flows stir up sediment.

    From the time the incident started, EPA has been conducting comprehensive water sampling in Stony Creek and inspected areas of Port Phillip Bay from Brighton through to Williamstown. In the coming days and weeks, EPA is targeting water and sediment quality analysis on contaminants that have been found in Stony Creek.

    The locations of EPA’s water and sediment sampling is mapped below.

    Waterways map West Footscray fire recovery

    Our testing found a range of chemicals in the water including detergents, industrial solvents such as phenol and a group of volatile industrial solvent compounds called BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), PFAS, and fire combustion by-products (polyaromatic hydrocarbons). The sediments contained most of the same chemicals, acting as a store for future release of these chemicals. Levels of chemicals found in Stony Creek have decreased as clean-up progresses and breakdown of the chemicals occurs. EPA will continue to monitor these during recovery.

    Further information about water quality is available here: West Footscray Fire – Water test results summary - 5 November 2018. Residents are still advised to avoid all contact with water and keep pets away from the creek.

    If you feel unwell, seek medical help and follow the same advice as you would for managing smoke.

  • Sludge and sediment sampling

    EPA has sampled sediment from Stony Creek, and the black 'sludge' that has coated some of the rocks in the stream, and plants at the edges. Samples were taken at sites upstream of Cruickshank Park, at Cruickshank Park, and at Stony Creek Reserve off Hyde Street.

    Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS)

    Results received on 25 September show that PFOS + PFHxS (perfluorooctane sulfonate + perfluorohexane sulfonate) were above human health guidelines. Since then, levels have declined to be below the human health guidelines but still above the ecosystem guideline value. Ecosystem guidelines are often exceeded for these compounds due to the widespread nature of these types of compounds.

    Hydrocarbons

    Sampling of the sediment in Stony Creek indicates that hydrocarbon levels in the sediment are below human health guidelines, but still exceed ecosystem guidelines, at least for one compound.

    Metals

    Samples were tested for cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc and other heavy metals. Results for the samples were all below human health investigation levels, set under the National Environment Protection Measure. Many metals exceeded the ecosystem guidelines, as commonly occurs in urban streams. However, copper greatly exceeded the guidelines.

    Advice

    EPA is continuing to advise the community to:

    • avoid contact with water in Stony Creek
    • not to walk along the edge of Stony Creek
    • prevent pets from swimming in the area, or drinking the water.

    Water quality is improving quickly due to the flow of clean water, however, sediment and sludge will take significantly longer to improve due to low levels of movement.

     

     

  • Air quality

    The fire produced a large plume of smoke and there has been a strong odour associated with the smoke.

    Now the fire is out, no smoke is being detected from the fire site. Some odour has been detected along Stony Creek from residual chemicals from the fire. EPA deployed canisters to measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at several locations along Stony Creek over several days to understand any risks posed by these odours. To date, all these results do not show any risk to the community.

    In response to local community requests, EPA has released a table of its AirWatch data showing pollutant levels from Thursday 30 August to Wednesday 6 September.

    Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Result Summary
    West Footscray Industrial Fire


    The smoke produced from the West Footscray/Tottenham Industrial Fire can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are organic chemicals that may cause harm to human health and the environment. To evaluate the impact of VOCs on local air quality, EPA conducted air monitoring of VOCs during and after the fire incident.

    Two air samples were collected over an 8-hour period at a location near the fire on the day (30/08/2018) of the fire. These samples were collected to determine the effects of smoke from the fire. The results for 8-hour sampling were compared against US EPA Acute Exposure Level Guidelines (AELG). AELG are used during emergencies as guidance in dealing with rare, usually accidental, releases of chemicals into the air. They are designed to protect the elderly and children, and other susceptible individuals. Only the results of 8-hour samples for VOCs above detection limits are presented in the table below

    Summary of 8-hour VOCs results for 30/08/2018 - 31/08/2018 (no exceedances).

    Compounds (µg/m³) Corrigan Ave,
    Brooklyn 
    EPA Brooklyn Air
    Monitoring Station 
    AELG 8hr 
    Benzene  8.7  5.4  28, 754 
    Ethyl acetate  <3.3  <3.3  NG 
    Ethyl benzene  <2.5  <2.5  143, 297 
    m,p-Xylene  <5.4  <5.4  564,503 
    Toluene  7.5  6.0  252,495 
    1, 2, 4-Trimethylbenzene  <15  <15  221,227 
    1, 3, 5-Trimethylbenzene  <3.7  <3.7  221,227 
    o-Xylene  <2.5  <2.5  564,503 
    Freon 12  <1.7  <1.6  NG

    AELG 1 (Level) = Notable discomfort, irritation, or certain asymptomatic non-sensory effects.
    However, the effects are not disabling and are transient and reversible upon cessation of exposure.
    NG = No guideline values available.

    VOC Air sampling along Stony Creek

    The chemical odour in this area is due to the vapours or VOCs coming from the chemicals in the creek from the water run-off from the fire site. The 24-hour and 72-hour VOCs results were compared against the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Minimal Risk Levels (ATSDR MRLs). ATSDR MRL is for time periods of 1 to 14 days.

    The sampling results show the VOCs detected were measured at low levels and well below the health impact criteria. Although the VOC levels measured in air is low, you may still experience instances of odour because these chemicals can be smelt at concentrations below the health impact criteria. 

    Results for the 24-hour and 72-hour samples for VOCs that were detected above detection limits are presented in the tables below.

    Summary of 24-hour VOCs results for 07/08/2018 - 08/09/2018 (no exceedances).
     

    NG = No guideline values available.

     

    Summary of 72-hour VOCs results for 11/09/2018 – 14/09/2018 (no exceedances)

     

    NG = No guideline values available

    Summary of 72-hour VOCs results for 14/09/2018 – 17/09/2018 (no exceedances)

     Summary of 72-hour VOCs

    NG = No guideline values available

    The VOC sampling locations are presented by the blue dots in the map below.

    VOC monitoring

  • Smoke

    Smoke can affect people’s health. If people can smell smoke and are concerned, they should try to avoid the smoke by staying inside.

    People with heart or lung conditions (including asthma), children, pregnant women and the elderly are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.

    People with existing heart or lung conditions (including asthma) should follow the treatment plan advised by their doctor.

    If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure, seek medical advice or call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24.

    Further information on smoke is available here.

    Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing should call 000.

  • Asbestos

    24-hour airborne asbestos sampling and testing was first carried out on 31 August 2018 at various locations near the fire site. Further samples have been taken over a 24-hour period on another five occasions. 

    Future airborne asbestos monitoring will be undertaken when severe land weather (high wind) conditions are forecast by the bureau of meterorology and during major demolition and clean-up activities.

    All results for monitoring of asbestos so far have been below the limit of detection, i.e. <0.01 fibres/mL.

    The airborne asbestos monitoring sites are depicted by the blue dots in the map below.

    Asbestos monitoring

  • Ash

    Ash particles fall from smoke. Ash is a fine powder that may be visible on surfaces. Although too large to breathe into your lungs, ash particles may irritate your eyes, nose or throat. Advice for minimising the impacts from ash:

    • Practice good hygiene.
    • Wipe down surfaces with soap and water.
    • Remove footwear before entering your home to avoid walking ash inside.

    If you come into contact with ash, wash it off your hands, face and neck as needed. If ash gets in your eyes, gently wash out with clean water.

    There should be no impact on any fruit and vegetables growing in your garden, but vegetables, fruit or herbs should always be washed in water prior to eating.

  • Monitoring data

     

Page last updated on 20 Nov 2018