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Thu October 28 2021

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Australian company gets $650k bill for soil disposal error

2 Jul 19 An Australian company is facing a total bill of more than AU$650,000 (£355,000) after sending 800t of lead-contaminated soil to the wrong landfill site.

ResourceCo Pty Ltd has been fined AU$150,000 after being convicted in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for depositing industrial waste at a site not licensed to accept it. The company was also ordered to pay costs of AU$75,000. It had already paid more than AU$442,000 to have the 796 tonnes of contaminated soil collected, treated and transported to the right facility.

The South Australia-based company has since stopped carrying out soil remediation works in the state of Victoria, where the incident took place.

The case resolved to a plea on the second day of a 10-day contest hearing being prosecuted by Victoria's Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

The court heard ResourceCo was appointed by Vinter Ave Pty Ltd in July 2015 to remediate a residential development site in Croydon. ResourceCo was provided with an environmental report that classified the site’s fill as Category A contaminated soil, as high levels of lead been found during testing. Category A is the highest level of contamination and carries strict conditions for transport, treatment and disposal to protect public health.

ResourceCo paid for its own environmental assessment from Watson Environmental Services Pty Ltd, which found the material on site could be classified as solid inert/putrescible waste and clean fill.

ResourceCo provided the report to Suez Recycling & Recovery Pty Ltd, which operates the Hampton Park Recovery Facility, and in emails read to the court Suez raised concerns about the material and the guidelines used to classify it.

Steven Harrison, a senior manager of ResourceCo, emailed Watson and stated “any thoughts on how to push this through with them?”. Watson responded suggesting they take the soil to another landfill as Suez “appear nervous” but failed to address the issues Suez raised.

EPA argued that once questions were raised about the validity of the second report, it was no longer reasonable for ResourceCo to rely on it.

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From 14-20 August 2015, waste was taken from the Vinter site to the Carroll Road Landfill, operated by Transpacific Industries Pty Ltd. Afterwards, the site operator was tipped off that the material may be contaminated. TPI sent two experts to review the material and found it was contaminated with lead and zinc and was Category A waste.

TPI then reported the matter to EPA.

Harrison has accepted responsibility for his part in the offending and has undertaken to complete 20 hours of relevant industry training and deliver a presentation to an industry group explaining what he and the company have done to ensure similar offending does not happen again.

EPA CEO Dr Cathy Wilkinson said that, had TPI not reported the matter, it could have been charged as well. “These offences are hard to detect so we’re grateful to the person who alerted TPI,” she said. “Waste categorisations are as much a safety measure for those handling it as it is for the wider community. By not investigating the incorrect Watson report further, ResourceCo put its staff, and the staff of TPI at risk of lead exposure. Lead contaminated soil was transported across the city without a permit, without the proper precautions – EPA and the community expect better.”

Wilkinson said ResourceCo had two prior offences for environmental offending in South Australia. “EPA will hold individuals and companies who try to take short cuts to account,” she said. “This case shows that offending can be very costly to both a company’s finances and their reputation. If ResourceCo had simply accepted the original report from the site owners, they would have saved themselves a significant amount of money and time. EPA’s new legislation, which takes effect from 1 July 2020, will help us to level the playing field for operators and further crack down on operators who undercut their competitors by doing the wrong thing.

“The new legislation will give our officers the power to take action before pollution occurs, strengthens the fit and proper person requirements - which means undesirable operators can be preventing from undertaking specified activities, and significantly increases the maximum penalties available to the courts.”

ResourceCo was also ordered to take out advertisements publicising their conviction in three newspapers.

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