The dumping at the Altona warehouse was brought to the attention of the Hobsons Bay Council in February, following reports of swarms of flies at the Aylesbury Drive property.
The EPA was notified and an inspection on March 15 discovered about 100 tonnes of mingled waste, including bottles, cans plastic and paper, which had been stored without permits from council or the EPA.
It is understood the tenant, MJM Fabrication Pty Ltd, was handed the keys to the property in December last year, but never signed a lease contract and paid only three months’ rent in advance. Most of the rubbish was dumped at night in an apparent bid to avoid detection.
The site has been closed and remains under investigation by the EPA, with the director of MJM Fabrication given until April 30 to remove the waste.
The warehouse in Altona.
The company is also facing legal action from the Queensland-based landlord of the warehouse, amid claims the cost of the clean-up and remediation will exceed $500,000.
The council is understood to have fumigated the site in a bid to mitigate the health risks to nearby businesses and residents.
On Melbourne’s western fringe, Brimbank Council and the EPA are also investigating a massive stockpile of recycled plastic at a Derrimut warehouse that had posed a significant fire risk and breached council compliance laws.
The EPA has inspected the site seven times since July 2017, while the council ordered the removal of tonnes of waste from external areas, which was found to be in breach of the planning permit for the property on Briggs Drive.
Brimbank Council’s director of city development, Kelvin Walsh, said the council had discovered the land was being used to stockpile recycled plastic in October 2018.
“Council officers have been working with the EPA to bring the site to compliance,” Mr Walsh said. “The site operator was given time frames to remove all recycled plastic stored outside the building and to ensure that any remaining material was stored internally within the building beneath a fire safety sprinkler system.”
He said a planning infringement notice was issued when the tenant failed to comply with the council’s deadline.
Illegal dumping of hazardous waste has been exposed as a serious crisis in Victoria, as two major fires in the past year have been linked to highly toxic chemicals.
The United Firefighters Union has demanded stiffer penalties, including custodial sentences, for those who dump chemical waste. UFU Victorian secretary Peter Marshall said “modest fines” for violations of dangerous goods laws had failed to deter offenders, including organised crime syndicates.
In a letter to Premier Daniel Andrews, Mr Marshall called for those responsible for the stockpiles to be held “fully accountable both in criminal sanctions and civil penalties”.
“The threat of imprisonment should be real and prosecuting bodies should have a ‘pro-charge’ policy to ensure that prosecutions are initiated in all circumstances where a fire occurs involving toxic chemicals that have, in any way, been illegally produced, sold, transported, stored or disposed of,” he wrote.
Last week, an Andrews government spokesman confirmed the proposed measures would be considered.
“Earlier this year the government announced we would look at bringing in tougher penalties for those caught illegally storing dangerous goods, to make it clear to rogue operators that this will not be tolerated,” he said.
The Derrimut warehouse that was used as an illegal dump.
The government has also committed $5.5 million to fund a new system to electronically track the movement of chemical waste.
However, it has baulked at imposing stricter sanctions for the illegal dumping of household, industrial and other waste, despite widespread rorting in the industry before an already committed expansion in the EPA’s powers, which will come into force in July 2020.
An EPA spokesman said the community had a right to expect that hazardous and industrial waste was managed to a high standard.
But last month the EPA announced it would undergo an independent review of its operations amid revelations it had failed to act on a warning two years ago that could have uncovered Victoria’s biggest illegal dumping operation.
The regulator announced an external auditor had been called in to examine its regulation and oversight of the chemical waste sector, after the recent discovery of massive quantities of illegally dumped toxic and highly flammable materials.
“EPA is determined to make any necessary further improvements to its processes following the findings of this review to help protect the Victorian community and its environment,” EPA chief executive Cathy Wilkinson said.
The move comes after
The Age reported that the EPA and Whittlesea council had failed to follow up intelligence provided by police in 2016 that two warehouses in Epping were being used to illicitly store chemical waste.
Those properties, and six others in Epping and Campbellfield, have since been linked to a syndicate that is allegedly responsible for hiding up to 19 million litres of waste in rented warehouses.
By the time authorities inspected the sites in December 2018, the buildings were filled floor to ceiling with 44 gallon drums and plastic containers of highly flammable solvents, aerosols, cleaning chemicals and paint.