Significantly contaminated sites land management and assessment

The NSW Environment Protection Authority has reinforced today that protection of human health and the environment are the priority on any decision to declare a site as significantly contaminated.

NSW has some of the most stringent reporting requirements in Australia. Property value never overrides the EPA’s protection of human health and the environment regarding significantly contaminated sites.

The majority of NSW’s large-scale contaminated sites are the legacy of previous industrial activities which are now banned or strictly controlled. Many contaminated sites require a long and complex process to remediate - some of which will take more than 100 years.

When a site is determined as significantly contaminated it is added to the public record, published in the Government Gazette, notification is provided to the landowner, polluter, land occupier and local council or authority.

Local authorities are then tasked to record this information on property planning certificates issued under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act (149 certificate).

If there is an impact on neighbouring properties, it is the responsibility of councils to consider the inclusion of that information on the 149 certificate.

NSW operates on the polluter pays principle, where clean-up and remediation costs must be borne by the polluter where they can be identified, or by the landowner if not.

In assessing contaminated land, the following must be taken into account under the Contaminated Land Management Act:

  • If the contamination already caused harm to human health or the environment
  • If the substances are toxic, persistent or bioaccumulative
  • If there are exposure pathways
  • Whether there are substances moving off site
  • Whether current or future use of land or adjoining land increases the risk

Site remediation can be complex and costly. Projects regulated by the EPA include:

  • BHP remediation of Hunter River contamination: $400 - $500 million
  • Clean up of the Rhodes peninsula: $200 million
  • Pasminco and Incitec site at Lake Macquarie: $100 - $150 million
  • Barangaroo remediation of small section of site: estimated to be $50 - $100 million