Newcastle Council fined $15,000 for water pollution incident

NSW EPA

Newcastle City Council has been fined for an incident at the Summerhill Waste Management Facility, which led to an alleged discharge of waste water into a local waterway.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) fined the Council $15,000, the largest fine the EPA can issue under its legislation.

The EPA alleges the Council failed to maintain an alarm on its leachate storage system at the Summerhill Waste Management Facility in January 2021. This ultimately led to an alleged discharge of waste water, or leachate, into a local waterway, which runs to nearby Wentworth Creek.

Leachate is the liquid present in waste, or generated from rain or other water filtering through waste, and is usually a product of landfills.

EPA Director Regulatory Operations Adam Gilligan said the incident happened when the sensor alarm system in a leachate storage tank failed, allowing the tank to overflow.

“Leachate can cause environmental damage if it gets into local waterways, affecting the health of plants and animals vital to aquatic ecosystems,” Mr Gilligan said.

“It’s essential that equipment put in place to detect these problems is functioning properly.

“Council did the right thing and self-reported the incident, but this is the fourth time in as many years that the EPA has responded to leachate issues at the Summerhill facility, which is unacceptable.”

Since 2018, Council has received two official cautions and been prosecuted by the EPA for incidents involving leachate discharges at the Summerhill facility.

The EPA is working with Council on a number of pollution reduction programs, which are legally enforceable conditions of their licence, aimed at addressing environmental issues at the facility.

Penalty notices are one of several tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, including formal warnings, licence conditions, notices and directions, mandatory audits, legally binding pollution reduction programs, enforceable undertakings and prosecutions.

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