What is virgin excavated natural material?
The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) defines virgin excavated natural material (VENM) as:
‘natural material (such as clay, gravel, sand, soil or rock fines):
(a) that has been excavated or quarried from areas that are not contaminated with manufactured chemicals, or with process residues, as a result of industrial, commercial, mining or agricultural activities and
(b) that does not contain any sulfidic ores or soils or any other waste
and includes excavated natural material that meets such criteria for virgin excavated natural material as may be approved for the time being pursuant to an EPA Gazettal notice.’
When VENM is a waste it is pre-classified as general solid waste (non-putrescible). For more information see Classifying waste.
How do I classify my excavated material as VENM?
Excavated material must meet all aspects of the above definition to be classified as VENM. Generators of excavated material must consider the following questions.
Are manufactured chemicals or process residues present?
A material can only be classified as VENM if it has been excavated from an area that is not contaminated with manufactured chemicals or process residues as a result of industrial, commercial, mining or agricultural activities.
Generators of VENM must assess the past and present activities on the site and the surrounding land. The possibility that a previous land use on the site or in the surrounding area has caused contamination of a site must be considered when assessing whether an excavated material is VENM.
Land uses that could result in contaminants being present in an excavated material are listed below. The list is not exhaustive and an excavated material may still be contaminated even where none of these activities have previously occurred on a site.
Activities not directly related to a site may also lead to contamination, including diffuse sources of pollution such as contaminated groundwater that migrates under a site, or dust settling out from industrial emissions. Generators of VENM must consider these factors.
Land uses and activities that could result in contaminants being present in an excavated material include
- acid/alkali plant and formulation
- agricultural/horticultural activities
- asbestos production and disposal
- chemicals manufacture and formulation
- defence works
- drum re-conditioning works
- dry cleaning establishments
- electrical manufacturing (transformers)
- electroplating and heat treatment premises
- engine works
- explosives industry
- gas works
- iron and steel works
- landfill sites
- metal treatment
- mining and extractive industries
- oil production and storage
- paint formulation and manufacture
- pesticide manufacture and formulation
- power stations
- railway yards
- scrap yards
- service stations
- sheep and cattle dips
- smelting and refining
- tanning and associated trades
- waste storage and treatment
- wood preservation
Are sulfidic ores or soils present?
VENM cannot contain sulfidic ores or soils.
Generators of excavated material should review the applicable Acid Sulfate Soil Risk Maps to determine the probability of acid sulfate soils being present at the site at which VENM excavation is proposed. You can ask to view the maps at the relevant local council.
The waste cannot be classified as VENM if the Acid Sulfate Soil Risk Maps identify a probability of occurrence of acid sulfate soils or potential acid sulfate soils, unless it has undergone chemical assessment in accordance with the Acid Sulfate Soils Assessment Guidelines (PDF 1MB) and the updated Acid Sulfate Soils Laboratory Method Guidelines Version 2.1 - June 2004 (PDF 1000KB).
If the excavated material contains detectable concentrations of reduced inorganic sulfur (‘RIS’) above the laboratory limit of reporting, it would be considered to contain sulfidic ores and soils. As such, it would not meet paragraph (b) of the definition of VENM.
Detectable concentrations of RIS may include actual acidity commonly reported as TAA, potential sulfidic acidity commonly reported as SCR or SPOS, and retained acidity commonly reported as SNAS in a typical laboratory report.
Is there any other waste present?
By definition, VENM cannot contain any other waste, or be ‘made’ from processed soils.
Are naturally occuring asbestos soils present?
Generators of excavated material should review the applicable naturally occurring asbestos risk maps to determine the probability of naturally occurring asbestos soils being present at the site at which VENM excavation is proposed. You can view the maps on SafeWork NSW's website (formerly WorkCover).
The waste cannot be classified as VENM if it contains naturally occurring asbestos soils. The waste should not be classified as VENM if the naturally occurring asbestos risk maps indicate a probability of occurrence of naturally occurring asbestos soils, unless it has undergone sampling and laboratory testing for asbestos to demonstrate that the waste does not contain asbestos.
A VENM certificate may be completed by a waste generator, or a consultant acting on behalf of a waste generator, to certify that waste is VENM as defined in Schedule 1 of the POEO Act. It is not required, but intended to give confidence to waste generators, contractors and receivers of VENM that the above four questions have been considered in the classification of a waste material as VENM.
Generally, “extractive materials” (as defined in the POEO Act, Schedule 1, clause 19) that are legally extracted from a quarry are not considered waste. Where this applies, the material is therefore not required to be classified under the waste classification process and does not require a VENM certificate.
There may however be situations where extractive materials could be considered waste. This includes, but is not limited to
- where the material is received by a scheduled waste facility that is liable to pay the waste levy, and meets the circumstances prescribed in clause 6(2) of the Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014
- where the material is an unwanted or surplus substance, such as when it is an unwanted by-product of a process.
Classification of excavated material as VENM requires certainty that all aspects of the definition are met. Chemical testing is not mandatory, however, chemical testing may be required to ascertain whether an excavated material is contaminated with manufactured chemicals or process residues, or whether it contains sulfidic ores or soils.
For further guidance about recommended sampling densities to classify VENM, please refer to section 5.4 of the Sampling design part 1 – application, Contaminated Land Guidelines (PDF 3.5MB).
Where an excavated material cannot be classified as VENM, it may be eligible for reuse under the excavated natural material order (PDF 92KB) and exemption (PDF 55KB).
If you require assistance with chemical assessment, you may want to consider engaging a suitably qualified environmental consultant with waste classification expertise.
Under the POEO Act, it is an offence to supply false or misleading information to another person, including information about the type, classification, characteristics, composition or quantity of a waste. Significant penalties apply.
Download the VENM certificate (DOC 828KB) for generators of VENM or consultants.
Contact the EPA on 131 555, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on VENM classification.