EPA called in to investigate
by Michelle Pini
9th February 2015
VICTORIA’S Environment Protection Authority (EPA) followed up a request from local CFA officers to investigate the cause of spontaneous fire eruptions in Park Orchards recently.
CFA crews were called to Stintons Reserve twice in six weeks to attend to fire incidents that appear to have been ignited by “self-combusting material”.
“We asked the EPA to inspect the site to determine the cause of the eruptions, as our fire investigation team were satisfied they were not deliberately lit,” South Warrandyte CFA captain Greg Kennedy told the Diary.
The fires ignited at the reserve’s fenced-off greyhound slipping track. The reserve is above the original site of the Park Orchards tip, which closed in the early 1990s.
The track has been free of fire incidents since its inception about 12 years ago.
Mr Kennedy stressed it was purely a precautionary measure.
“I felt a bit uneasy given the history of the reserve and the fact that it happened twice in a matter of six weeks,” he said.
An EPA spokesperson said they had attended the site along with Manningham council officers and determined the cause of the outbreaks to be naturally occurring decomposition. He advised that they eliminated “the possibility of a sub-surface fire”.
“The fire was caused by a mixture of decomposing organic matter (sawdust in this case), generating enough heat to ignite the sawdust,” he said.
The fires caused concern about methane leaks among Park Orchards residents, as reported on 3AW’s Rumour File program.
That was understandable given what happened at a Cranbourne landfill several years ago.
A methane issue resulted in a class action against the City of Casey and the EPA that saw residents awarded $23.5 million in compensation.
Many such domestic waste dumps (including Stintons Reserve) were closed over before the introduction of more stringent regulations in 2004, requiring all landfills to be lined to provide leak protection.
The EPA subsequently reviewed metropolitan landfills, putting councils on notice to clean up sites where pollution of land or groundwater posed a potential risk to human health.
In 2013, the environmental watch- dog issued a pollution abatement notice to Manningham council.
The EPA issued the warning after con- ducting a compliance inspection at Stintons Reserve to assess management of contaminants leaking from the closed landfill.
The notice, which was later amend- ed to allow additional time for the works to be completed, stated: “Water sampling results and an assessment of the pipe integrity shows leachate from the landfill is contaminating the surface water piped beneath the landfill and the surrounding ground.”
It also stipulated: “… that this non-compliance, or likely non-compliance, must be remedied.”
Manningham council’s director of assets and engineering Leigh Harrison said the landfill had been rehabilitated in accordance with applicable standards at that time.
He confirmed that council had been “progressively upgrading” management of the site over the past 12 months “to accord with current standards”.
Mr Harrison said: “The present situation offers no threat to the health of those persons using the oval, BMX facility or the slipping track. The works will simply result in a renewed, and improved, leachate management system.”
With regard to recent fire activity at the site, Mr Harrison was adamant there was “no evidence of any issue with methane generation from the landfill contributing to these issues”.
The EPA pollution abatement notice stipulates that all relevant works must be completed by May 31 2015.
The arrival of warmer weather has also triggered community fears of recurring spontaneous fire activity at the slipping track.
Manningham council advised: “Council has spoken to the club and suggested that the track surface, which becomes compacted, be ‘turned over’ on a semi regular basis throughout the year and especially the summer months.”