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Bio-Organics Pty Ltd Oakford

Background

Former composting facility at Lot 36 Abernethy Road, Oakford

Bio-Organics Pty Ltd (Bio-Organics) operated a licensed compost manufacturing facility at Lot 36 Abernethy Road in Oakford from 2002 to June 2014.

On 10 December 2013, after assessing groundwater monitoring results around the facility, the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER)* and the Department of Health classified Lot 36 Abernethy Road as possibly contaminated – investigation required under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003 (CS Act).

In June 2014, DWER revoked the licence and served a Closure Notice on the company under the Environmental Protection Act 1986.

Bio Organics Local

Location of the former composting facility and vineyard.

DWER also served Bio-Organics with an Investigation Notice under the CS Act on 2 October 2014, when the company failed to carry out investigations required. The Investigation Notice required Bio-Organics to carry out quarterly groundwater monitoring at and around the former composting facility for a year—a process that was completed on 10 March 2017.

Localised nutrient (nitrogen) impacts were found immediately down-gradient of the stormwater basin on the south-eastern boundary of the former composting facility. An outcome of the investigation further monitoring near the basin was needed to assess the risk to the environment. Groundwater conditions were not found to pose a risk to public health, subject to the results of further monitoring near the stormwater basin.

The groundwater investigation at Lot 36 Abernethy Road was subject to an independent review in late 2017 – see below for more information.

Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs inquiry

On 16 September 2014, a petition was tabled in the Legislative Council expressing concern about environmental contamination caused by the Bio-Organics compost facility in Oakford.

As a result, an inquiry was held by the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs. Committee Chairman Simon O’Brien MLC released a report and media statement on 15 September 2016.

The Government’s response—presented to Parliament on 15 November 2016—supported the recommendations of the Standing Committee’s report.

Independent review of groundwater investigation

On 30 August 2017, the Environment Minister approved a scope of work for an independent review of the Bio-Organics groundwater investigation at the former composting facility at Lot 36 Abernethy Road.

On 27 September 2017, DWER engaged contaminated sites auditor Patrick Clarke, accredited in Victoria, to carry out the review. Mr Clarke has more than 29 years of experience in contaminant hydrogeology and groundwater remediation. Mr Clarke has no conflicts of interest with the Western Australian Government or any company that has undertaken work on the Bio-Organics site. 

Mr Clarke's report was finalised on 3 January 2018. In general, Mr Clarke agreed that the groundwater investigation provided a reasonable basis for assessing impacts to the east of the site (including depth of groundwater wells).

Mr Clarke made a number of recommendations—including for further on-site investigation near the southern boundary of Lot 36. This is relevant because any contamination migrating across the southern site boundary could potentially pose an ecological risk to vegetation or conservation category wetlands to the south.

Mr Clarke noted that completing the recommended additional investigations may not change the overall conclusion of the previous groundwater investigation.

See What is happening now (below) for DWER's response to the independent review and an appeal lodged by Bio-Organics. 

Vineyard at Lot 6 King Road, Oakford

Bio Organics Pty Ltd Oakford

Groundwater investigations Lot 6 King Road, Oakford (vineyard).

The potential for contamination at the vineyard (Lot 6 King Road, Oakford) was raised by the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs. The report recommended that the potential for contamination at the vineyard should be assessed.

Contamination was suspected due to activities at the former Bio-Organics facility, including the historical application of compost or mulch and potential use of leachate derived from compost manufacturing for irrigation of the grapevines. Organic stockpiles from the composting facility have also been stored at the vineyard.

In May 2017, DWER commissioned a contaminated sites consultant to carry out a groundwater investigation at the vineyard.This was completed on 31 August 2017 and results indicated that leachate from the compost stockpiled at the site had reached shallow groundwater.

Nutrients (nitrogen) impacts were present in groundwater at the vineyard, as were the emerging contaminants perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The results did not indicate a risk to public health, but potential risk to the environment requires further assessment.

The vineyard at Lot 6 King Road, Oakford was classified as possibly contaminated – investigation required under the CS Act on 21 November 2017.

Greenland Resources Pty Ltd, trading as Bio-Organics, appealed that classification on 12 January 2018. See What is happening now (below) for more information.

* The former Department of Environment Regulation amalgamated on 1 July 2017 with the Department of Water and the Office of the Environmental Protection Authority, forming the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.

What is Happening Now?

DWER’s response to the independent review

The Department accepts Mr Clarke’s recommendations, which are considered consistent with the current classification of the site as possibly contaminated – investigation required under the CS Act.

On 12 February 2018, DWER advised Bio-Organics and the land owners in writing that it expects them to commission the further work recommended by Mr Clarke, in addition to ongoing monitoring already required at the composting facility.

The company has not yet carried out a monitoring event that was due in late 2017. DWER is considering its regulatory options under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003, such as serving another Investigation Notice.

Once the further work has been completed, the Department intends to commission Mr Clarke to provide supplementary advice on whether it has resolved the potential uncertainties identified.

Decommissioning requirements suggested by Mr Clarke, such as filling in the stormwater basin, will be considered following further assessment.

Lot 36 Abernethy Road in Oakford remains classified as possibly contaminated - investigation required under the Contaminated sites Act 2003. The classification was updated on 26 February 2018 to incorporate the outcome of Mr Clarke's independent review.

Appeals against classification of the vineyard and former composting site

The vineyard at Lot 6 King Road, Oakford was classified as possibly contaminated – investigation required under the CS Act on 21 November 2017.

On 12 January 2018, Greenland Resources Pty Ltd (trading as Bio-Organics) lodged an appeal against the classification of the vineyard with the independent Contaminated Sites Committee.

DWER updated the classification of Lot 36 Abernethy Road under the CS Act on 26 February 2018, following Mr Clarke's independent review.

On 16 April 2018, Bio-Organics Pty Ltd and the land owners also lodged an appeal against the updated classification of the Lot 36 Abernethy Road with the Committee.

The Committee is currently considering both appeals.

Closure Notice

The Closure Notice was found to be invalid in the Supreme Court on 9 August 2018. The decision does not affect the obligations of the Bio-Organics or the owners of the sites under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003 and the general provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1986. 

The licence remains revoked and the current activities on the premises—as observed by DWER inspectors and advised by the operators—do not require licensing under the Environmental Protection Act 1986. 

Prosecution of Bio-Organics

On 7 July 2016 DWER commenced a prosecution against Bio-Organics in relation to continued non-compliance with the Closure Notice. Following the decision of the Supreme Court, DWER has discontinued the prosecution. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a risk to people nearby?

No risk to public health has been identified in the investigations so far.

DWER has regularly sought the advice of the Western Australian Department of Health throughout the investigation process.

The independent review, finalised in January 2018, found that the extent of groundwater contamination to the east of the former composting facility appears to have been delineated, and that no existing private bores appear to have been affected.

Further assessment is still required, including testing for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the former composting facility at Lot 36 Abernethy Road, as these substances were found at the vineyard at Lot 6 King Road.

The Department of Health said that the results of groundwater investigation at the vineyard in June and July 2017, including the detection of PFAS, did not indicate a risk to public health.

DWER’s enquiries indicated that wine grapes from the vineyard, sold to the public, are not likely to contain PFAS at detectable concentrations. Grapes and other fruits and vegetables have been sampled as part of investigations at contaminated sites in Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. PFAS compounds are primarily found in the leafy parts of plants—crossover into fruit appears limited. The results of those investigations have not yet been published.

Please also see ‘Advice for bore users’ (below).

What is the risk to the environment?

The main driver for further investigation at the former composting facility and the vineyard is to assess the risk to the environment (especially wetlands and vegetation).

Groundwater in the south-eastern corner of the former composting facility, and up to 200 m east, may pose a potential risk to the environment if nutrients migrate through groundwater towards terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Further assessment is required to determine whether groundwater impacts could discharge into surface water bodies, such as drainage channels, creeks, rivers or wetlands. Nutrients can pose an environmental risk to surface water bodies by causing eutrophication (the overload of nutrients which leads to algal blooms).

PFAS compounds are known to be persistent in the environment, and due to their solubility can be transported long distances in water.

DWER considers that further investigation is required to assess the ecological risk from PFAS at the vineyard. Groundwater monitoring to be carried out in 2018 will check whether PFAS are also present at the former composting facility.

Is there a risk to stock grazing in the area, or crop irrigation?

No risk to stock grazing, stock dams or crop irrigation has been identified.

Please also read 'Advice for bore users'.

Is there a risk to the public drinking water supply?

No.

Regional groundwater flow direction is generally to the east, away from public drinking water source areas to the west (i.e. the Jandakot Underground Water Pollution Control Area). The closest Water Corporation production bore is more than 5.5 kilometres north, in a different direction to groundwater flow.

The figure below, produced by DWER, shows the location of the former composting facility and the vineyard in comparison to the public drinking water source area and Water Corporation abstraction bores (yellow dots).

Groundwater flow direction can vary on a local scale. For more information, see ‘What is the groundwater flow direction?’ (below).

regional groundwater flow

Regional groundwater flow is to the east, away from the Jandakot Public Drinking Water Source Area.

 

What is the local groundwater flow direction?

The independent review finalised on 3 January 2018 re-examined and re-interpreted all hydrogeological information. It found that groundwater flow at the former composting facility is generally to the east, consistent with the regional flow direction and previous investigations.

Additional groundwater monitoring wells are proposed to better determine whether there is any south-easterly or north-easterly component of flow near the southern boundary of Lot 36. The proposed new monitoring wells are not expected to change the overall assessment of flow direction.

At the vineyard in July 2017, the groundwater flow direction was from the north-west to the south-east. The variation in groundwater flow direction, in a generally easterly direction near the former composting facility and a south-easterly direction at the vineyard, is consistent with the known behaviour of groundwater flow in the region.

Local groundwater flow in the superficial aquifer in this region varies due to the influence of drains, wetlands and waterways; variable sources of recharge; and groundwater abstraction.

Are the groundwater monitoring wells deep enough?

Yes.

The independent review finalised on 3 January 2018 re-examined and re-interpreted all hydrogeological information, and found that the depth of the groundwater wells was appropriate.

Some of the recommended new wells on the site are proposed as “deeper” wells. The depth of these (up to 10 metres below ground level) is consistent with previous investigations.

What has been found in groundwater?

Based on the investigations so far, contaminants of concern include nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), metals (aluminium, iron, nickel and zinc), salts (total dissolved solids) and hardness (calcium and magnesium carbonate).

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are also present at the vineyard site, and will be included in monitoring at the composting facility during 2018.

PFAS are emerging contaminants and as the first Australian guidance was only published in 2016, they were not identified as potential contaminants of concern in the July 2015 Sampling and Analysis Quality Plan (developed in accordance with the Investigation Notice).

Groundwater investigations also included analysis for a wide range of other ‘industrial’ contaminants, including pesticides, herbicides, polychlorinated biphenyls (also known as PCBs), solvents and hydrocarbons (such as from petrol or diesel). These contaminants were not detected in groundwater.

Other substances, such as surfactants and phosphorus, are also present in groundwater but are thought to be representative of the regional agricultural setting and the presence of domestic septic tanks.

Please also see ‘Advice for bore users’ (below).

Advice for bore users

DWER reiterates the Western Australian Department of Health’s long-standing advice to residents that groundwater (bore water) should be regularly tested and, if necessary, treated, to make sure it is suitable for its intended use.

Bore water should never be used for drinking, bathing, filling swimming and paddling pools, food preparation or cooking unless it has been professionally tested and, if necessary, treated. Home grown fruit and vegetables irrigated with bore water should be washed with drinking water before eating. Bore water used for any other purpose should also be tested, to ensure it is suitable for its intended use.

DWER recommends you test your bore water annually at the beginning of summer, if you are about to start using the bore.

For more information on the safe use of bore water see DWER’s fact sheet on contaminated groundwater or visit the Department of Health’s website.

What were the findings of the independent review into the groundwater investigation at the former composting facility?

On 30 August 2017, the Environment Minister approved a scope of work for an independent review of the Bio-Organics groundwater investigation at the former composting facility at Lot 36 Abernethy Road.

On 27 September 2017, DWER engaged contaminated sites auditor Patrick Clarke, accredited in Victoria, to carry out the review. Mr Clarke has more than 29 years of experience in contaminant hydrogeology and groundwater remediation, including 15 years of experience as an auditor in Victoria. Importantly, Mr Clarke has no conflicts of interest with the Western Australian Government or any company that has undertaken work on the Bio-Organics site. 

Mr Clarke's report was finalised on 3 January 2018.

In general, Mr Clarke agreed that:

  • the groundwater investigation provided a reasonable basis for assessing impacts to the east of the site (including depth of groundwater wells);
  • groundwater flow was generally to the east, consistent with the regional flow direction and away from public drinking water source areas to the west;
  • the extent of groundwater contamination to the east appears to have been defined; and
  • no existing private bore appear to have been affected.

However, Mr Clarke considered that insufficient on-site investigation had been carried out, particularly near the southern boundary of Lot 36. This is relevant because any contamination migrating across the southern site boundary could potentially pose an ecological risk to vegetation or conservation category wetlands to the south.

Mr Clarke made a number of recommendations for further work including:

  • installing seven more groundwater monitoring wells near the southern site boundary (but not off-site at this time);
  • collecting further water samples;
  • surveying the elevation of drains and surface water features to check whether contaminated groundwater is discharging into surface water or vice versa;
  • filling and capping the stormwater basin at the site if it is found to be an ongoing source of contamination; and
  • improved engineering controls, such as low permeability liners and imporoved stormwater control, if composting is to conducted at other Western Australian sites with a similar geology to the Oakford composting facility in future.

Why doesn't DWER do the further investigations?

Requiring Bio-Organics or the land owners to commission the work is consistent with the 'polluter pays principle' and the 'hierarchy of responsibility for remediation' in the Contaminated Sites Act 2003.

Has Bio-Organics applied to DWER to renew its licence to operate the composting facility at Oakford?

No.

What is a Closure Notice and how does it work?

A Closure Notice is a statutory instrument that can be issued by DWER's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) after an environmental licence expires or is revoked. The Closure Notice imposes requirements on Bio-Organics to manage existing material and activities on site during the close down of operations. This includes ongoing groundwater monitoring.

It is an offence to breach a Closure Notice. When the actions required under the Closure Notice have been completed to the CEO's specifications, it can be amended or revoked.

What is an Investigation Notice?

An Investigation Notice can be issued by DWER’s CEO where there are grounds to indicate possible contamination at a site and where appropriate action is not being taken to investigate, monitor or assess the site. It sets out what investigations and monitoring is required and how and when the results are to be reported to DWER.

It is an offence to breach an Investigation Notice. When the actions required under the Investigation Notice have been completed to the CEO's specifications, it can be amended or cancelled.

 

Relevant documents

Reports commissioned by the Department

The reports commissioned by DWER are available below for download.

pdfScope of work for independent review, August 2017

pdfVineyard groundwater investigation report, September 2017

pdfIndependent review of the former composting facility groundwater investigation, January 2018

Copies of other reports submitted to DWER, such as groundwater investigation reports commissioned by Bio-Organics, can be requested through a detailed summary of records request under the Contaminated Sites Act 2003.

 

Information released under the FOI Act

The following information was released under the Freedom of Information Act 1992 (FOI Act). While DWER takes seriously its obligations to maintain confidentiality of information provided to it, the FOI process in this case has determined that no exemptions under the FOI Act apply to prevent its release in this redacted form.

pdfControlled waste data57.4 MB

Data extracted from DWER’s Controlled Waste Tracking System. This information is provided by third parties—DWER makes no guarantee as to the accuracy of data provided by third parties.

pdfControlled waste category list203.38 KB

The Controlled Waste category list arranges the controlled wastes listed in Schedule 1 of the Environmental Protection (Controlled Waste) Regulations 2004 into 15 broad waste groups and assigns a waste code to each waste type within the group. The waste codes are used by industry and DWER for waste tracking and reporting purposes. The waste categories reflect those in the National Environment Protection (Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories) Measure.

 

Correspondence

Other

More information

DWER will update this page as new information comes to hand. If you have concerns or would like more information, call the Contaminated Sites hotline on 1300 762 982.


 Updated 28 August 2018