Current issues

Waterways around the West Footscray industrial fire


Tuesday 13 August 2019

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is working closely with Maribyrnong City Council and Melbourne Water to restore Stony Creek and the surrounding environment as quickly as possible.

EPA continues to monitor the environment in the affected areas and provide advice around the potential human health and environmental 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 most 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 and similar to water quality before the fire, but we recommend avoiding contact with water in Stony Creek as the sediment is still contaminated and may pollute the water if disturbed.
  • Any recent rain may mobilise contaminants along Stony Creek, so 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.
  • While water quality is much improved, don't let pets swim in or drink the water. 
  • Seek medical help if you feel unwell.

Environmental monitoring

Water quality

This update includes water quality data from 30 August 2018 to the most recent available test results, collected on 27 June 2019.

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 avoiding contact with the water and sludge in Stony Creek and to keep pets from swimming or drinking the water.

Past results have shown 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), lighter petroleum hydrocarbon 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. Concentrations of these chemicals have declined significantly over time.

Latest results

Conditions in Stony Creek have improved considerably since the fire due to dilution by creek flows, chemical degradation and clean up undertaken by Melbourne Water. Heavy rainfall and creek flows during November and December helped to dilute and flush the creek of water-borne contaminants, and aided in the movement of contaminated sediments downstream. The latest results show that water quality in Stony Creek meets human health water quality guidelines for recreational contact.

Melbourne Water began removing contaminated sediments via dredging from sections of Stony Creek downstream of the fire site on 1 April 2019. The figure below shows Stony Creek mean daily flows (ML/day) measured at the Spotswood gauging station (Bena St, Yarraville) from 26/08/2018 to 30/06/2019. The black horizontal bar indicates that the period of dredging has coincided with increased base flows in Stony Creek and periodic heavy rainfalls and creek flows throughout May and June 2019. These may have contributed to further flushing of contaminants from affected areas within Stony Creek.

 

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

Results for the persistent chemicals perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and the herbicide 2,4-D upstream of the fire site (Quarry Rd) and three sites downstream of the fire site at Cala St, Cruickshank Park and Hyde St from 30/8/2018 to 27/06/2019 are shown below. The red and green lines indicate recreational water quality and aquatic ecosystem guidelines, respectively. These show that the two recent samplings are similar to previous samplings. Note, the high PFOS levels recorded on 30/08/2018 downstream of the fire site are not displayed on this figure to aid interpretation.

Concentrations of PFOS at Cruickshank Park have declined through time and at all downstream sites were below environmental guidelines on 27/06/2019. Concentrations of the herbicide 2,4-D have declined since November and remain below human health guidelines, but remain above background levels at Cala St and Cruickshank Park. It is unclear whether elevated levels of 2,4-D are due to residual impacts associated with the fire or related to ongoing contamination from local sources at the downstream sites.

Other chemicals presented in previous updates of water quality occurred below detectable levels and are not presented here (e.g. BTEX chemicals benzene, ethylene, toluene and xylene, acetone, methylethylketone, and phenol). Note, that although these chemicals are no longer presented in these reports, EPA will continue to measure and assess these chemicals to ensure they remain below relevant guidelines.  

 

 

 

Sediment quality
This update includes sediment quality data from 11 September 2018 to the most recent available test results collected on 27 June 2019. This update reports on how sediment conditions have changed over time since the fire.

Overview
We have tested sediment at fixed locations for a range of pollutants from the Stony Creek area since 11/9/2018. Although in most cases contaminant levels in the sediment have declined, disturbing the sediments would mobilise contaminants and increase the risk of harm to the environment and human health. We advise avoiding contact with the creek in Cruickshank Park until further notice.

Latest Results
Concentrations of C16-C34 hydrocarbons at Cala St exceeded human health guidelines for recreational contact on 03/05/2019 and 17/05/2019 but fell below these guidelines by the 31/05/2019. Concentrations of C16-C34 hydrocarbons at Cruickshank Park remained below the recreational guidelines during May 2019. Concentrations of C10-C40 hydrocarbons in sediments continued to exceed environmental guidelines at sites downstream of the fire and remained significantly above background levels recorded upstream of the fire site at Quarry Road. Concentrations of copper in sediments at Cruickshank Park continued to remain above environmental guidelines. As with concentrations of C16-C34 hydrocarbons, copper concentrations spiked on 03/05/2019 at Cala St. High variation in sediment contaminant levels over time at Cala St and Cruickshank Park may reflect the movement of contaminated sediments during high flow events.

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

Results for the C16-C34 and C10-C40 hydrocarbon fractions and copper in sediments sampled upstream of the fire site (Quarry Rd) and downstream of the fire site at Cala St, Cruickshank Park and Hyde St from 11/09/2018 to 31/05/2019 are shown below. The red line indicates human health guidelines for recreational contact with sediments. The green lines indicate aquatic ecosystem guidelines for sediments. Other chemicals presented in previous updates occurred below relevant guidelines and are not presented here (e.g. C6-C10 hydrocarbons and PFOS). Note that although these chemicals will no longer be presented in these reports, EPA will continue to measure and assess these chemicals to ensure they remain below relevant guidelines.

Further information

Additional advice and information + Expand all Collapse all

  • 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 - 8 January 2019. 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

    Since the fire, some odour has been detected along Stony Creek from residual chemicals from the fire. The latest air monitoring results are for 11-12 May 2019 in response to a rain event.

    EPA deployed canisters to measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at the fire site (420 Somerville Road, West Footscray) and at Stony Creek in Park Avenue, West Footscray for a 24-hour period extending over 11/05/2019 and 12/05/2019.

    The VOCs detected and the concentrations measured are reported in the table below. 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.

    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 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.

    Summary of 24-hour VOCs results for 11/05/2018 - 12/05/2019 (no exceedances).

    Compounds (µg/m³) AQ guideline Stony Creek at fire site 420
    Somerville Road,
    West Footscray 
    Stony Creek
    at Park Avenue,
    West Footscray 
    ATSDR Acute MRL
    (1-14 days (µg/m3) 
    1.2.4-Trimethylbenzene NG  5.3 <4
    Acetone 61,763  27 <20
    Ethanol  NG 46 52 
    Ethylbenzene 21,711 7.3 <4 
    m.p-Xylene NG 22 <4.4
    o-Xylene  NG 7.5 <4
    Toluene  7,537 29 <7.5
    Xylenes - Total 8,684 30 <6.6

    NG = No guideline values available.

  • 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 13 Aug 2019