Recent changes to Part 5.7 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) specify new requirements relating to the notification of pollution incidents.
The changes take effect from 6 February 2012 and require the occupier of premises, the employer or any person carrying on the activity which causes a pollution incident to immediately notify each relevant authority (identified below) when material harm to the environment is caused or threatened. The following information and procedures may assist those responsible for reporting a pollution incident.
Firstly, call 000 if the incident presents an immediate threat to human health or property. Fire and Rescue NSW, the NSW Police and the NSW Ambulance Service are the first responders, as they are responsible for controlling and containing incidents.
If the incident does not require an initial combat agency, or once the 000 call has been made, notify the relevant authorities in the following order. The 24-hour hotline for each authority is given when available:
- the appropriate regulatory authority (ARA) for the activity under the POEO Act (usually the EPA or local authority) – the local authority is a local council of an area under the Local Government Act 1993), the Lord Howe Island Board for Lord Howe Island, or the Western Lands Commissioner for the Western Division (except any part of the Western Division within the area of a local council)
- the EPA, if it is not the ARA – phone Environment Line on 131 555
- the Ministry of Health via the local Public Health Unit – see www.health.nsw.gov.au/publichealth/infectious/phus.aspx
- SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover) – phone 13 10 50
- the local authority if this is not the ARA.
The appropriate contact for the relevant local authority and Public Health Unit will vary. All necessary contact numbers should be found in advance and stored for immediate access should a pollution incident need to be notified. These contact numbers should also be identified in the Pollution Incident Response Management Plan prepared for the premises.
Complying with these notification requirements does not remove the need to comply with any other obligations for incident notification, for example, those that apply under other environment protection legislation or legislation administered by Safework NSW.