This post highlights weaknesses and gaps that the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has identified in Bingo’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its Eastern Creek Waste Facility.
You can read the EPA’s full submission letter here.
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has provided a scathing assessment of Bingo’s EIS that it submitted in support of the company’s application to massively expand its Eastern Creek waste operations.
The submission was sent to the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) on August 19th.
Bingo is owned by Macquarie Group which has more than A$700 billion worth of infrastructure and other assets under its management. It brands itself as a company with a strong sustainability and environmental record.
The EPA has found that the EIS fails to meet basic requirements, does not include enough information for adequate noise and air quality assessments and does not consider how it will use ‘best practice’ to reduce environmental impacts. It also lacks a large amount of information about why the expansion is needed and the nature of waste processes planned for the site.
Who is responsible for the EIS?
Environmental consultants Arcadis Australia Pty Ltd were responsible for the EIS. Arcadis Australia is part of global project management consultancy that boasts more than 20,000 employees in 70 countries. The relationship between Bingo and Arcadis is close. Brad Searle was an environmental manager and waste solutions developer at Arcadis for 7 years before joining Bingo in April last year as its senior executive responsible for environmental and regulatory compliance. He is managing the process for Bingo.
(Ed: Bingo and Arcadis make no acknowledgement of potential and/or perceived conflict of interest in Searle’s role.)
The proposal is for a large expansion which would lead to the waste facility being able to increase what it can take into the site from 2 million tonnes annually to 2,950,000 tonnes. This would take place in two stages. The first stage would allow an additional 500,000 tonnes of waste a year and the second stage an additional 450,000 tonnes a year. It would also lead to additional waste that can’t be reused going from the recycling centre down a chute into landfill, over and above the 1 million tonnes that has already been approved. The expanded facility would operate 24 hours a day. As well, the proposal includes the construction of more buildings and roads on the site.
The EPA identified scores of gaps and other problems with the EIS. This raises the question of why a major company is allowed to put in such a deficient EIS without facing the real possibility of outright rejection.
Before the project can go ahead, the EPA needs to recommend conditions of approval and changes to the two pollution licences that currently operate on the site – one for the recovery facilities and one for landfill. The EPA concludes that it is “unable to support the proposal at this stage as a range of additional information is required to demonstrate to the EPA that the potential impacts of the activity have been adequately assessed and that appropriate mitigation of these impacts will be in place.”
No consideration of ‘best practice’
Companies putting in major waste proposals are meant to apply ‘best practice’ principles, which require that waste sorting and recovery activities take place in enclosed areas. The Bingo proposal doesn’t consider why this would not happen in the case of its Eastern Creek facility. The EPA now required to do so.
Bingo also proposes to discharge Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste that can’t be reused as road base, landscaping materials or compost into an open chute that goes down into the landfill. (CEM Ed: Last year there was a chemical accident on the chute and union officials have reported asbestos in the area. This led to Bingo being fined In January, 2022.)
It is not even clear what areas of the site will be sealed and unsealed. This can make a difference to how much waste migrates into ground water, distribution of waste on truck wheels and amounts of windblown dust.
Other missing information
The EIS does not include:
- adequate information regarding the types of waste that will be received at the premises as well as into each facility operating within the huge premises. The EPA states, “The EIS states on a number of occasions that waste to be received “includes“ or “includes but is not limited to“. This is not sufficient.” All waste types proposed to be received must be clearly set out.
- adequate information regarding how waste will be handled and managed under the proposal, including how waste stored on the will be kept below the authorised amount of 667,000 tonnes at any one time. Without this information, it is not clear if waste can be managed safely.
- information about the details of where different waste types will be sourced and the quantities of each type.
- information about the nature of the waste that will be sent to the landfill and how much more of each type there will be.
- information about testing and monitoring procedures.
Lack of information about the waste levy
The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) requires certain licensed waste facilities in NSW to pay a contribution for each tonne of waste received at the facility. Referred to as the ‘waste levy’, the contribution aims to reduce the amount of waste being landfilled and promote recycling and resource recovery.
The EPA notes that very little information has been supplied about how “compliance with the waste levy requirements will be achieved including record keeping and reporting.”
The EPA notes that it has previously raised concerns with the company regarding record keeping and reporting for the premises which has led to associated issues with levy liability calculations. (Ed: As far as CEM is aware this information has not been previously reported.)
The EPA is concerned the issue with calculating the total amount of levies that Bingo should pay the NSW government could be exacerbated by increasing the current waste limits.
Lack of a detailed site plan
The proposal does not contain a detailed site plan. This means those assessing the proposal are unable to develop an understanding of how the different parts of the site will operate in relation to each other.
The site plan must include the location of each facility, weigh bridges , wheel washes, traffic flows, routes for hauling waste, how and where waste will be stored. the location of environmental controls including for noise, water, odour and stormwater drainage areas.
(Ed: CEM wonders why a proposal without a detailed site plan is even accepted by NSW DPE in the first place. It appears that DEP is not enforcing its own requirements for EIS so perhaps this is why applicants such as Bingo and Arcadis can treat the process with contempt.)
Air quality modelling is complex. The EPA is not satisfied with all the methods that have been used or whether sufficient work has been done to find ways to prevent the impacts of air pollution.
This section refers to commercial and residential receptors. Receptors are located within the area potentially impacted by the project.
The EIS consider particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5 which consist of particles that are 10 or 2.5 μm3 or smaller in diameter, respectively. Both PM10 and PM2.5 can be inhaled, meaning that they are small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs.
Some air quality concerns
With one exception, the EIS predicts that impacts would be below the EPA‘s impact assessment criteria (IAC) for residential receptors. The modelling showed that there would be one additional day per year exceeding the daily average limit for PM 2.5 if the project is allowed to proceed. This would mean that there would be an additional day when there is poor air quality, averaging more than 25 u/gm3 PM 2.5. (Ed: Research has shown there are no safe levels of PM 2.5 and that even short term exposure can have health impacts.)
It is a different story for commercial receptors where there would be numerous exceedances (more than 30 extra days a year) if the project goes ahead. The EIS fails to make clear the source of the emissions that lead to exceedances.
Emissions from crushing and screening activities in the Segregated Materials Area would double in Stage 2 of the project compared to current levels. Despite these findings, no additional engineering controls including water sprays are suggested. There would also be wind erosion from stockpiles. The EPA points out that if the criteria are exceeded, the Approved Methods for Modelling and Assessment of Air pollutants require that modelling be revised to include control strategies until the project complies. There is no such modelling in the EIS.
The EPA questions the suitability of the chosen air quality modelling approach and recommends more modelling and analysis of what contributes to increased emissions and how they can be mitigated.
(Ed: It is against the law to release odours from a waste facility. There have been more than a thousand complaints that the Bingo site is releasing odours over the last two years. This severely impacts the quality of life of residents. Some suffer health impacts.)
The odour problem is caused by hydrogen sulphide being released as waste decomposes. This would be expected in a landfill that takes general waste with organic/putrescible waste matter. This is why putrescible landfills are required to have gas systems to reduce the odours. But Bingo is only licensed to take non-putrescible waste which has left the EPA struggling to explain the odours.The problem has been made more serious by huge rain events in 2021 and 2022 that have saturated a landfill where a 2019 audit found there were preexisting water management problems.)
The EIS minimises the odour problem and failed to discuss it in any detail. DPE had already approved the installation of a gas flare system that will burn gases coming out of the landfill and release them in the form of other emissions. However the company has now put in a new application asking for the location of the gas flares to be changed.
The EPA is not satisfied with the information about odours in the EIS and wants more information.
It states that the, “EPA is currently prosecuting [the company] for an alleged offensive odour event that impacted Minchinbury and surrounding communities for several months in 2021 resulting in over 800 reports of odour to the EPA, and is currently investigating a further odour event that impacted Minchinbury between March and July 2022”.
Missing information means that odours cannot be assessed
- In its communications with residents, Bingo highlights the fact that the project will not result in more waste coming through the external gates to be dumped. (Ed: In fact Bingo already received approval for a massive increase in landfill waste in April 2020). However there will be more waste going to landfill because the residue of waste that cannot be reused is dumped in the landfill. The EPA wants to know how many extra tonnes would be going to landfill each year and what percentage of annual landfilled waste this would be. It is also notes the Air Quality study claims that the extra waste coming down the chute will not be high in organic matter and will therefore not contribute to an increase in landfill gas generation. The EPA wants this statement to be justified with information about the estimated organic content of the extra waste as a % of weight of total landfilled waste.
- Even if effective, gas flares won’t collect 100% of gas produced by the site. The gas that is not collected is called “fugitive emissions”. The EPA wants more information of the efficiency of the gas collection system, expressed as a percentages of total estimated gas production, including estimates of worse case scenarios such as after a period of heavy rain.
- the fugitive emissions must be accounted for in all calculations of gas emissions from the site.
The EPA finds that the noise assessment does not meet the Secretary of Planning’s Requirements for the EIS and is not sufficient to allow an adequate assessment of the potential noise impacts. More work is needed.
Noise impact on Minchinbury
The EPA’s analysis of the EIS finds that not all the receivers (residential sites) that appear to be potentially affected have been assessed. These include receptors (homes) between McFarlane Drive and Buring Crescent and between Cobbler Crescent and McFarlane Drive. The EIS fails to demonstrate whether these receptors will reach the Project Noise Trigger Level (PNTL) or not.
Noise from skip bin handling and storage
New maintenance and manufacturing workshops for skip bins are proposed as part of the project. These will operate 24 hours a day. These workshops definitely have the potential to cause noise events. However it is not clear from the noise assessment study whether the potential noise from these workshops has been considered.
The EPA requires that Bingo shows how it considered the impact of skip bins including the impact of skip bins striking metal, noise from manufacturing and so on.
How was the noise model validated?
The EIS claims that some noise levels were ‘inaudible’ at the site. Therefore the EPA wants to know how the predicted noise impacts were calculated if there was no existing level.
The management of water on the site has been an issue for years.
The EIS fails to meet the Secretary’s Requirements (see page 4).
The Surface Water Impact Assessment (SWIA) fails to characterise the water quality that would be discharged from proposed and existing detention basins during construction and operation. An inappropriate model has been used.
The EIS does not appear to consider the type of waste, how it is stored on premises and the potential for contaminant leaching to determine the contaminants of concern. Ammonia which must be included has not been considered at all.
The impacts on water have not been considered against relevant national and local guidelines for toxicants (see page 10 of EIS submission).
The EIS acknowledges that water will be discharged from three basins into the external environment. It is considered best practice by the EPA that all water that has contacted waste be managed as leachate. The EPA wants to know what reasonable alternatives to discharge have been considered.
There will be more runoff from the site as a result of having more sealed roads. Some of the water will eventually be discharged into Angus Creek but the frequency and volume of discharges to the waterway have not been described. The pollutants from stockpiles that could enter the waterways have also not been described.
(Ed:The EPA’s criticism of this part of the EIS are very strong and suggests that basic elements of the water impacts study have not been completed. Again this raises an issue of why NSW DPE did not send the EIS back for more work before putting it on exhibition.)
Managing construction waste
It is a requirement under Part 8A of the Waste Regulation for waste facilities that receive construction and demolition waste to comply with the standards for managing construction waste in New South Wales. The standard were developed to ensure appropriate processes and procedures are used to minimise the risk of harm to human health and the environment posed by asbestos and another contaminants found in the waste. The EIS mentions the standards in passing but does not demonstrate how the proposal will ensure compliance with these standards. This information must be provided.
(Ed: Last year, Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union Tony Callinan lodged complaints with SafeWork NSW that he had observed asbestos lying on the ground at the Eastern Creek Facility. In January this year, the EPA issued a penalty notice to Bingo for leaving asbestos in the open.)
The EIS Fire Safety Strategy report acknowledges that there are many aspects of the project that would not comply with fire safety guidelines guidelines. The EPA is therefore concerned about the risk of fire under the proposal. It requires that the proposal is revised to ensure compliance with all aspects of the guidelines. Adequate justification must be provided for each non-compliance and how an equivalent standard will be reached with alternative methods.
(Ed: In February 2020, there was a fire at the site that produced a “toxic, chemical smell” believed to be linked to the blaze. The Daily Telegraph reported that residents were worried about potential health impacts of the fumes, including breathing difficulties and asthma attacks. Bingo did accept that this was a ‘serious environmental incident fire’ at the premises. The cause of the fire was never established. Residents used GIPA (NSW’s Freedom of information laws) to obtain information about any toxic emissions that were released but never received all the information requested.)