by Laura Doguet & Scott Podmore
7th February 2016
AN Environment Protection Authority Victoria investigation has revealed there has been no contamination of the Yarra River and surrounds at Pound Bend Reserve.
A leaked incident and hazard report detailing a poorly maintained wash down facility in the Warrandyte State Park has caused much controversy since it surfaced recently and also ignited some wild speculation and guesswork on Warrandyte social media pages.
The report revealed an apparent chemical contamination of the Yarra River and surrounding vegetation within the Pound Bend workcentre.
While the validity of the report’s claims have been questioned by Friends of the Warrandyte State Park (FOWSP), the matter has seemingly been put to rest by the results of an EPA investigation which proved there was no contamination of the river or surrounds.
According to the original report, which was written on April 29 last year, the wash down facility was “used to pressure wash vehicles, to triple rinse chemical containers and to mix/fill herbicides for use in the park”.
The report revealed the facility led to chemical drainage into the Yarra River and consequent nearby tree death. It also claimed “the wash bay doesn’t meet any legal requirements and if the EPA was informed, PV would face serious fines”.
The report surfaced in early January and was published by major news outlets. The allegations caused uproar from the media and general public as many were led to believe the issue was ongoing.
“These are shocking revelations of the Yarra being poisoned in a secret government report which Daniel Andrews has tried to bury,” said shadow environment minister Brad Battin.
“Daniel Andrews needs to order a full investigation into what’s been done to stop this environmental vandalism,” he added.
In response to the abundance of reports and articles, Friends of the Warrandyte State Park (FOWSP) committee of management addressed the accusations for the Diary in an official statement.
“We are not aware of any negative impact to the environment as detailed in the report – there is no out-of-the-ordinary dead vegetation downhill of the ‘wash-down’ facility. We would, of course, be greatly concerned, if this were the case.
“FOWSP enjoys a close working relationship with the rangers who operate from the Pound Bend workcentre. Their concern for safety and the environment is not only paramount, but it’s their job. As such, we do not believe that any of their staff would knowingly be a party to the actions in the aforementioned report.”
Committee member of the FOWSP Jason Patton elaborated on this with a list of his own personal observations after attaining a copy of the infamous report.
“There is NO tree death downhill from the site – well, actually there is one dead tree among a stand of healthy trees,” he told the Diary.
“The Yarra River is some 200m downhill from the site, including crossing an 80m alluvial plain. Is anyone aware of any water quality checks that prove that the Yarra has been contaminated from this site?
“I am not versed in the operation of the containment facility (pits, etc), but I CAN say that from my many visits there, it is designed as a retention basin to prevent release of poisons to the surrounding environment.”
The report certainly raises questions as there is no sign of river contamination or dead vegetation at the time of its public release.
However, local MP Ryan Smith said the report would have been filled in by the Warrandyte State Park rangers themselves.
“In this case, Parks Vic rangers themselves would have filled in the report as they noticed the effects of the waste water on surrounding vegetation. So, in short, this is a self-acknowledged incident, not a report done by an external party,” he said.
“The Warrandyte State Park rangers would have noted it for their bosses. What happens then was a decision for those higher up the chain.”
On January 20, Parks Victoria released a statement with the results of the EPA’s recent investigation into Warrandyte State Park’s waste management practices.
The EPA confirmed there was “no current contamination of the Yarra from these herbicides” and “minor herbicide contamination of soil near the wash bay” at the Warrandyte Depot.
Parks Victoria chief executive Bradley Fauteux revealed that resolution of the incident commenced in June of 2015.
“I am pleased that there is no current evidence of herbicides being washed into the Yarra. Herbicide washing in the facility ceased in June last year after the issue was flagged by staff in an internal occupational, health and safety report,” Mr Fauteux said.
“Trucks now come in to remove sediment. We have commenced an investigation and an immediate and ongoing state-wide review of our facilities, including wash bay facilities and reporting procedures.”
While the issue appears to be somewhat resolved, Mr Smith said he did not find that explanation conclusive enough.
“There has been no feedback about why practices allowed it to happen or what has actually been done to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “The response seems to have been ‘OK, it was wrong, it’s fixed, please move on’. I think that locals need more reassurance than this.”
Mr Patton, on the other hand, remains sceptical about the accuracy of the report in the first place.
“I do not believe that there ever was any contamination, from the lack of dead vegetation. The ‘report’, which is merely five bullet-points, would appear to be written by someone who does not have an understanding of the area, for example, a temp worker, or visitor.
“Unfortunately, the public and media have jumped on the report, and taken it verbatim – no investigation of the site.”