Listening to our stakeholders at EPA roadshows
A new feature on the EPA’s annual engagement calendar, the EPA Roadshows give us valuable opportunities to listen to our stakeholders, hear about their priorities and discuss local environmental matters. Having genuine, meaningful conversations with our stakeholders is key to the EPA being a service-oriented, responsive and outcomes-focused world class regulator.
EPA CEO Tracy Mackey and members of the Executive team hit the road in February and March 2021, meeting with more than 80 local councils and 170 licensees at 12 locations in metropolitan and regional NSW.
In these forums we sought feedback on our draft Regulatory Strategy. We also held question and answer sessions, hosted by the CEO and Executive – ‘open mic’ events that let everyone be heard and answered.
Our staff listened closely to stakeholders talking about local matters of interest: waste management, contaminated land, planning and development, and emergency and incident management. We heard feedback about our newly launched operations system, The Hub, we also learnt that stakeholders wanted better collaboration, increased coordination between government agencies, and more support and education. We are acting on these requests by communicating them to our colleagues across government, creating new guides and increasing our engagement with stakeholders.
The roadshows helped us strengthen our relationships with stakeholders.
Attendees said they valued meeting EPA staff in person, having the opportunity to network, and gaining a better understanding of what we do and why we do it. Overall, stakeholders found the forums open and receptive, and a great way to engage with the EPA.
EPA Executive members speak to stakeholders at the International Convention Centre, Sydney in February 2021. Photo: EPA
The Board and Executive team at the Vales Point Power Station at Mannering Park. Photo: EPA
EPA Board visits to regulated sites
In mid-April 2021, the EPA Board travelled to the Hunter Valley to inspect regulated sites and meet some of the staff at these sites.
The first stop was Vales Point Power Station at Mannering Park, on the southern shores of Lake Macquarie. Here the Board looked at coal-ash dams and talked to stakeholders about environmental remediation.
After meeting with EPA staff at the Newcastle office, the Board then visited the huge Orica facility on Kooragang Island. Board members were interested to hear from Orica staff about the rigorous safety measures in place, particularly given the devastating explosion of an ammonium nitrate store in 2020 at the port of Beirut in Lebanon.
The next day the Board went to the site of the former Truegain oil refinery near Maitland. The EPA is monitoring this site closely because it is near residential areas and holds a large volume of contaminated water. The EPA has prevented almost three million litres of this water flowing from the site but a long-term solution is still being explored.
The Board’s final visit was to Mount Thorley Warkworth, two adjacent open-cut mines near Singleton that are run as a single operation. The Board listened to staff and inspected the mines’ regulatory practices.
“The Board’s annual trip is a really important opportunity for the Board to speak to stakeholders about challenges and opportunities, and to get to know our EPA people and find out more about the important work they do”
Alisa Chambers, Director, Governance, Risk and Planning
Engaging with stakeholders on chemical solvent contamination
Preparing the drill rig and location for groundwater monitoring well installation at Jannali. Photo: EPA
This year the EPA completed a detailed investigation into soil and groundwater contamination in the commercial precinct of the Sydney suburb of Jannali. We have been proactively investigating the contamination since it was first reported in December 2017. We completed preliminary investigations in 2020 and then carried out a detailed investigation in 2021, as a polluter could not be identified due to the historical nature of the contamination.
The contamination is from a chemical solvent called tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE), which is mostly used in industrial processes and dry-cleaning of fabrics. Soil and groundwater contaminated with PCE has the potential to generate vapour, known as soil vapour: this can migrate from the soil into overlying buildings, where it can pose a risk to human health. PCE can also migrate long distances in groundwater and may impact on down-gradient ecosystems.
Our investigations focused on the commercial precinct, where three historical sources of contamination were identified. Sutherland Shire Council conducted concurrent investigations to support the development of a nearby commuter car park. The EPA and Sutherland Shire Council have worked together to investigate the contamination by sharing relevant information.
The primary objective of our investigations has been to determine if the contamination poses a risk to human health or the environment. We engaged a certified contaminated land professional who installed monitoring wells for groundwater and soil vapour and collected samples of surface water and indoor air. The resulting data was used to develop a conceptual site model to understand potential risks to the environment and human health.
The EPA has put stakeholder engagement at the centre of the investigations. We developed a thorough communications strategy that involved meeting with people, discussing their concerns and carrying out letterbox drops to update the community about the investigations. This engagement has been crucial because the site investigations have been highly visible within the community. The EPA and Sutherland Shire Council continue to work together on this issue to make sure the community is appropriately informed.
To date, the investigations have suggested that contamination is historical and does not pose a risk to the occupants of existing commercial and residential land-uses within the Jannali commercial precinct. The results also indicate the contamination does not pose a risk to down-gradient waterways or ecosystems.
We will apply what we learn from this investigation to future investigations of PCE contamination.