‘Illegal’ chemical stockpiles prompt Victorian Government to flag tougher penalties
Jill Hennessy said the penalties for illegally storing chemicals may need to be toughened. (AAP: Julian Smith, file photo)
The Victorian Government has flagged tougher penalties may be needed to deter people from illegally storing chemicals, after the discovery of several stockpiles in Melbourne’s northern suburbs this week.
- The EPA says chemicals discovered in Melbourne’s north would pose a serious risk if they caught fire
- Attorney-General Jill Hennessy says penalties under the Dangerous Goods Act are lower than those under the Occupational Health and Safety Act
- An expert on hazardous waste management says the EPA needs more resources to effectively enforce existing regulations
The state’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) this week uncovered “illegal” chemical stockpiles in seven warehouses across Melbourne’s north, which it said were linked to its investigation into last year’s West Footscray warehouse fire.
That fire, which started on August 30, spewed thick black smoke over the city’s western suburbs, sparking health warnings and respiratory complaints from local residents and badly polluting a nearby creek.
The EPA said if the chemicals discovered at four neighbouring sites in Epping and three sites across Campbellfield caught fire, they would pose a similar health and environmental risk to the West Footscray fire.
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the EPA’s recent discoveries suggested that stronger penalties may be required.
She said penalties under the Dangerous Goods Act — which can be up to $1 million for a corporation — are lower than the penalties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
“So I think it’s probably time for us to look at whether that difference is a little bit out of whack.”
“The model around dangerous goods has required a lot of self-disclosure in the past and I think that we are going to have cause at the conclusion of this investigation to have a look at whether or not that’s fit for purpose.”
Sandbags have been placed around drains to prevent any run-off from the chemical stockpiles discovered this week. (ABC News)
“I think we’re entering a time where people have a much stronger expectation about good management when it comes to not just public health and environmental health but for those that might be unregistered and unregulated in these industries, they expect an active cop on the beat,” she said.
Trevor Thornton, a lecturer in hazardous waste management at Deakin University, said the regulations covering the storage of chemicals were adequate, but the EPA needed more resources to effectively enforce them.
“They don’t have enough staff to be able to go out and check everything all the time and to continue to check them,” Dr Thornton said.
“They do have the powers to do so, but it’s the resources that are needed to make sure that things are being done correctly.
“The EPA budget has increased over the years … but there’s a lot of industries out there and there’s only so many EPA officers that can police them and inspect them.
“It’s a case of putting into place a strategy, so that if you are generating this waste, you know at some point in time you’re going to be inspected, very similar to how WorkSafe goes around.
“People are worried that the WorkSafe inspector can come past anytime. They need to be worried that an EPA inspector can come past anytime.”