Incident response and recovery

The EPA assists the responsible party to manage diverse incidents in different locations that involve loss of containment of hazardous materials and cause actual or potential harm to the environment. Generally, smaller incidents that occur in the community are managed by the local council, however where industry is regulated by the EPA or where additional assistance is required, the EPA’s participation may be requested by council or other agencies. The level of EPA response depends on a number of factors including:

  • the nature and quantity of the materials exposed to the environment
  • the level of sensitivity of the local environment
  • public health and community concerns.

When an incident occurs there are two main phases of work: response and recovery.


When responding to a hazardous materials incident, the objective is to contain the hazardous materials to prevent actual or further harm to the public, property and the environment. The EPA supports and advises the combat agency (the agency responsible for controlling the response to an incident) which is typically an emergency service organisation such as Fire and Rescue NSW. The EPA is not a combat agency.

The EPA will support the combat agency by:

  • providing technical and scientific advice and assistance, especially regarding protecting or minimising impacts on the environment
  • prioritising appropriate actions to protect the environment
  • participating in developing and executing the incident action plan
  • assisting the combat agency in identifying unknown, potentially hazardous materials and determining the potential for these materials to cause environmental harm.

The EPA works with other agencies to obtain satisfactory environmental outcomes. These agencies include:

The combat agency for an emergency depends on the hazard.

Hazard Combat agency

Animal, plant disease, rodent or insect plague

Department of Primary Industries

Fire (within rural fire district)

NSW Rural Fire Service

Fire (within a fire district)
Hazardous material on land and inland waters
Major structural collapse

Fire and Rescue NSW

Hazardous materials on state waters
Marine oil and chemical spills

Relevant Port Authority

Storm and tempest

NSW State Emergency Service


NSW Health


The recovery phase of an incident is the process by which an affected community or environment is restored to its proper level of functioning. During the recovery phase and depending on the overall circumstances, the EPA or the local council may be the lead agency in managing strategies to protect and minimise harm to the environment. The main exception is oil and chemical spills into NSW waters, which are managed by Transport for NSW.

The EPA will coordinate the necessary clean up of the incident site and restoration of the environment when it is the lead agency. When it is not the lead agency, it may provide technical and regulatory assistance in recovery.

Under certain circumstances, funding for clean up may be accessed through the Emergency Pollution Clean Up Program.

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