MS LAWDER (Brindabella) (3.39): I move:
That this Assembly
(a) Koppers Wood Products timber treatment plant operated from the early 1980s until 2005 in Hume;
(b) during the period from 1998 to 2005 the treatment plant failed to submit all the required testing to the Environmental Protection Authority;
(c) an independent audit in 2007, of the then recently vacated site, indicated there was groundwater pollution which breached the safe national limits;
(d) Hexavalent chromium in the groundwater was recorded up to 2430 times the legal limit;
(e) the failings of the ACT authorities in not ensuring the required testing was completed during the time the company was occupying the block; and
(f) the failings of the ACT Government in not obtaining any independent tests over the seven years from 2007, until this was raised as an issue in the media; and
(2) calls on:
(a) the ACT Auditor-General to conduct a performance audit of the management of the environmental reporting guidelines with specific reference to the Koppers Wood Products timber treatment plant in Hume; and
(b) the Government to provide detailed information, by Thursday, 8 May 2014, on what action is being taken to remediate the site and to ensure this situation is not repeated.
I rise today to talk about a serious issue which has come to light over the last few weeks. That issue is pollution at the Koppers Wood Products timber treatment plant in Hume.
I have no doubt that we have all heard the recent media reports on this topic and, like many in the community, I share concerns about this situation. The concerns I raise today highlight the lack of enforcement from the Environment Protection Authority during the time Koppers operated in Hume, as well as concerns about remediation of the site since Koppers vacated the site.
Koppers Wood Products timber treatment plant operated from the early 1980s until 2005 on a block of land in Hume. It has been alleged that during the period from 1998, when stricter environmental reporting was introduced, until 2005, when Koppers Wood Products vacated this site, the Environment Protection Authority had been lax in ensuring that the required testing was completed and submitted by the company.
The company was required to send groundwater test results to the EPA every four months between 1998 and 2005. However, in this time not even close to half of the reports were submitted. The company appears to have been negligent in meeting its reporting requirements, which is never good for our environmental management. However, what is more important here, and more concerning to most Canberrans, is the fact that our Environment Protection Authority, the body tasked with keeping our environment intact and safe, failed to enforce and follow up on these test results.
The EPA was established under the Environment Protection Act 1997 with an objective to protect the environment, ensure decision making incorporated ecologically sustainable development principles, establish a single and integrated framework for environmental protection and encourage general environmental duty of care.
The issue with the Koppers log site clearly shows that the EPA failed in some of these objectives. And it is not only about the time that Koppers occupied the site; there is concern about lack of action since they vacated the block. When independent testing was completed on this site in 2007, the government was advised that the groundwater recorded a carcinogen known as hexavalent chromium at 2,430 times the safe limit. Yet no action was taken by the government at this time.
It has been nine years since Koppers vacated the block in Hume. Nine years later, there are still concerns about the level of toxins in the groundwater on this site. The toxins are apparently contained in a perched aquifer and it is not very likely, assuming the conditions are not dramatically changed, that the toxins will seep into the other water. However, there are mixed opinions as to whether the toxins could spread in the future to surface water, under the right conditions.
Despite knowing of the pollution from 2007, no further testing was completed in the seven years from 2007 until this story broke in the media at the end of March and a test suddenly took place. It appears that the government scrambled to prove that the site was safe and suddenly commissioned testing to be done. The testing which was released last week indicates that the bore water around this area has not yet been contaminated. The minister has to date assured us there is no potential risk to the environment or to the population. But this is about an even bigger picture. It is about the failings of the EPA, the failings of the government and the potential for wider environmental harm into the future.
I am asking for support for this motion today not in the form of any finger pointing or blame, but because the ACT community deserves to know that we are fixing any loopholes or gaps that can exist, so that we can all look forward to better environmental management in the ACT moving forward.
We need to see the government's plan for managing this situation. We also need to ensure that the EPA has the appropriate systems and processes now and into the future to enforce environmental protection requirements.
We believe the Auditor-General is best placed to review the environmental reporting guidelines and the practices of the EPA so that we can give that assurance to the Canberra community that this is not going to be repeated and assurances that the objectives of the EPA are being met. This is a serious situation and it needs to be resolved. There needs to be a lesson learnt to ensure things are done better in the future in the very unlikely instance that another occurrence takes place. I commend the motion to the Assembly.