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Measuring groundwater flow using Flexible Liners (FLUTe)

Measuring groundwater permeability (or transmissivity profiles) in fractured rock has traditionally been done by diamond coring, assessing where major fracture sets of interest are by logging core, and then running straddle packers at discrete elevations to characterise the formation. An alternative method which is typically much faster and therefore more cost effective has been developed using Flexible Liner Underground Technologies (FLUTe).

FLUTe liners are made of a high strength polyurethane covered nylon which makes them impermeable and completely water tight. The liners are installed by ‘everting’ (the process of turn something inside out) by filling the liner from the surface – it is a simple recipe of ‘just add water’!

As the everting blank liner is installed into an open borehole, groundwater in the borehole is forced from the hole into the formation by whatever flow paths are available (e.g., fractures, permeable beds, solution channels, etc.). Figure 1 shows the everting liner as it propagates down the open hole.

When the liner begins its descent in the hole, all of the flow paths are open and the descent rate is highest (Figure 2). As the liner progressively covers individual flow paths (e.g. water bearing fractures etc.), the liner descent rate decreases. From a plot of the decreasing velocity with depth, a transmissivity profile can be constructed for the hole (Figure 3).

In most cases, the FLUTe Transmissivity Profiler™ can map all the significant flow paths in the hole in less than 10 percent of the time required to do the same mapping with a straddle packer (as holes can be drilled using rotary air rather than diamond core) – an advantage when trying to quickly and cost effectively understand the hydraulic conditions at your site.


For more information contact Mike at Matrix Drilling on 1300 662 565, or visit www.flut.com



An important court case

An important decision was handed down by the NSW Land and Environment Court on 2 August this year.

His Honour Brian Preston CJ, among other observations concluded the following in relation to the decision of "asbestos waste" under the NSW environment legislation. The critical passage is reproduced below:

315. I find that the trial judge did err in finding that the issue of whether waste (or material) “contains asbestos” is “a matter of fact and degree… and must depend on the nature of waste and the volume”. This issue needed to be addressed in order to determine, first, whether the activity of stockpiling material on Lot 8 was the scheduled activity of “waste storage” in cl 42 of Sch 1 to the POEO Act, and, secondly, whether the excavated natural material exemption applied so as to make that activity a non-scheduled activity for the purposes of the POEO Act.
316. As to the first, the trial judge found that the activity of stockpiling the material was not the scheduled activity of “waste storage” because she found that “the five tonne limit in cl 42(3)(a) of Sch 1 for the storage of asbestos waste was not demonstrably triggered” (at [523]). This finding depended on the trial judge’s construction of the term “asbestos waste”.
317. The defined meaning of “waste that contains asbestos” does not import degrees of inclusion. The ordinary meaning of “contained” is “to have as its contents or constituent parts; comprise; include” (Macquarie Dictionary 5th Edition). Waste can include or have as its contents or constituent parts asbestos, regardless of how much asbestos is included in the waste. Whether waste “contains” asbestos is not dependent on the absolute amount of asbestos in the waste or the relative proportion of the amount of asbestos to the volume of waste.
318. As the EPA submitted, this wider construction of “asbestos waste” accords with the purpose of regulation of asbestos waste, including to protect, restore and enhance the quality of the environment (s 3(a) of the POEO Act) and to reduce risk to human health (s 3(d)). Very small amounts of asbestos can pose unacceptable risks to human health and the environment. Here, the trial judge found that the total amount of asbestos in the bulk samples was 634.64 grams (at [521]). Whilst that might be “incredibly minor” in comparison to the upper estimate of 44,000 tonnes of materials in the stockpiles (at [421]), it nevertheless wassufficient to cause severe risk to human health if people were to be exposed to the asbestos.

In essence this suggests that materials containing as little as 0.0000014% asbestos (even if it is bonded asbestos) still constitutes "asbestos waste" within the meaning of POEO Act.

His Honour's choice of wording of a "severe risk" is clearly inconsistent with enHealth's 2013 characterization which equates "high risk" as that were a worker (builder in this case) experiences "frequent exposure to high levels of asbestos" in the order of "100s to 1000s times the background levels" and on a "frequent" basis.

It is difficult to imagine how 0.0000014% content could generate a risk in the order suggested.

This may require publishing a response on the appropriateness of the language adopted and to state categorically the nature of the risk as supported by scientific evidence (and agreed between all health departments).

The full case can be accessed at:

Environment Protection Authority v Grafil Pty Ltd; Environment Protection Authority v Mackenzie - NSW Caselaw 



Plastic contamination of the food chain – a threat to human health?

Rosemary Waring from Tharos presented a fascinating webinar about plastic in the environment, it's impact and what can be done about it. The main points were:

Background and environmental fate of plastics

8.5 billion tonnes of plastic have been made since the 1950s and 75% of this is waste. Still 40% of plastics are single use packaging.

Four main groups of plastics:

  • Polyethylene (including LDPE, HDPE and PET)
  • Polypropylene (PPL)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Polystyrene (including rigid (PS) and expanded (EPS))

Size categories:

  • Macroplastics: 5 mm +
  • Microplastics: 100 nm-5 mm
  • Nanoplastics 1-100 nm
  • Photoxidation of macroplastics makes them brittle, after which they break down to micro and nanoplastic fragments.
  • In addition to the polymers, plastics also contain chemicals such as bisphenol A, phthalates, pigments, and brominated fire retardants. These have a range of health effects, including endocrine disruption and potentially effects on developing foetuses.
  • Plastics in the environment tend to end up in the oceans due to being moved by wind and rivers. Sources include manufacturing and industry, waste water and agriculture.
  • Microplastics frequently eaten by fish as they are similar in size to plankton. Bottom-feeding fish and those that feed in rivers tend to have the highest contamination levels.
  • Microplastics don’t seem to have significant health effects on fish generally, but filter feeders such as mussels and oysters are affected. Because these species are eaten whole by humans, they may be a significant source of microplastics to the human food chain. Behavioural changes are also observed in some species.
  • Plastics are hydrophobic and microparticles tend to clump together to form a “mat”. These can attract hydrophobic chemicals (e.g. persistent organic pollutants), and also colonies of pathogens can form (particularly near sewage outfalls).

Do microplastics have any effect on humans?

  • Microplastics can bioaccumulate up the food chain (e.g. soil -> worms -> chickens).
  • In addition to ingestion via food, can inhale microplastic fragments into the lungs (particularly in cities and in factories working with plastics).

Do microplastics enter the rest of the body from the gastrointestinal tract? Unclear, but it’s thought that there’s limited absorption from the gut into other organs. However, this assumes an intact intestinal wall, which may not be the case in some medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  • Much less is known about nanoplastics. However, it’s known that nanoparticles are widely distributed within the body, and it’s likely that nanoplastics are the same. Nanoplastics are also known to affect the behaviour and fertility of aquatic life.
  • Potential (but unproven) links to mental health issues and oxidative stress (which could contribute to conditions such as Alzheimers or Parkinson’s)
  • Overall, nanoplastics are probably more of a problem than microplastics because they can be spread around the body more readily (although there is considerable uncertainty).
  • No evidence as yet that there is cause for significant concern.

However, possible precautions:

  • Avoid eating large amounts of shellfish (e.g. oysters and mussels), or the brain, lungs and “tripe” from animals.
  • Reduce air-borne plastic particles in populated areas where possible.
  • Collect all plastic waste, and incinerate for energy generation if recycling isn’t possible. 
  • Research new biodegradable plastics – and important to know what they biodegrade into. Obviously don’t want products that just biodegrade more readily into nanoparticles, and also can’t be too biodegradable or it will fall apart.
  • Land disposal of wastewater sludge is a source of microplastics to the environment and should be avoided.

Probably the difference in behavior/risk profile between microplastics and nanoplastics – although there’s still a lot of uncertainty around this.

There was a bit of discussion about “biodegradable” plastics – how biodegradable they really are, and what the breakdown products are. I.e., do they break down to monomers or other basic chemical products, or do they just break down more readily to form micro-/nano-plastics? Also, how to create genuinely biodegradable plastics that are still durable enough for the intended purpose.

Ongoing issues:

  • Rosemary talked a lot about the degree of uncertainty that still exists in relation to the health effects of micro- and nano-plastics.
  • Testing for micro- and nano-plastics in water and soil, particularly what tests are commercially available and how reliable they are, questions for our next webinar on this topic!

1st August webinar report submitted by Tim Muller, Landpro

Didn't get to hear the webinar, but would love to review the presentations? Go to the ALGA online library*

* note the access to all the papers in our online library is a member only benefit, for more information or to join click here



Christmas in July Enviro Drinks

ALGA, in collaboration with Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) hosted this year’s Enviro Drinks catchup.

The theme of the event was Christmas in July, which was tied in with a speed networking event. The event was well attended with approximately 50 people from the environmental industry attending, including contaminated land consultants and auditors, environmental consultants, laboratory professionals, suppliers and students.

There was plenty of good food and drinks provided by The Howling Owl and of course, MANY bad Christmas sweaters to be seen!

Where do they find them??

Outcomes?...

While participants were initially hesitant to join in the speed networking event, it eventually got underway and feedback from those involved indicated it was a worthwhile and successful exercise.

The speed networking event was hosted by Toby Carter and involved the splitting of participants into two groups, with each person having 5 minutes to have a chat with someone from the opposite group before rotating onto the next person. There was a list of conversation starters and prompts provided, although much of the discussions focussed on the participants experiences in the industry. Feedback from students and young professionals at the event indicated that it was beneficial for expanding their networks and learning more about the career opportunities in the industry.

Overall a good night was had by all!

Presenter Name

Presenter Company

Toby Carter

Toby Carter Consulting


16 July SA Branch report submitted by Justin Symonds – Agon Environmental

Didn't get to attend the event, but would love to review the presentations? Go to the ALGA online library*

* note the access to all the papers in our online library is a member only benefit, for more information or to join click here



Contaminated Land Management in NSW – Update on Regulatory Initiatives

Arminda Ryan, Joanne Stuart & Naomi Lee from NSW EPA led a lively discussion on the management of old mine sites in NSW. The questions began with:

What is the NSW EPA doing with respected to abandoned mine sites in regional NSW?

  • Responsibility for derelict or abandoned mines in NSW is the responsibility of the Derelict Mines Fund which is managed by the Division of Resources and Geoscience.
  • Where the NSW EPA regulates a mine site, there are conditions on the environment protection licence to manage the discharges coming from mines undergoing rehabilitation.

Are Councils ready to implement the SEPP 55 changes?

  • NSW EPA does not manage SEPP 55 so has focussed on supporting councils with the updated UPSS regulation.
  • The proposed UPSS changes will happen before the updated SEPP 55 is released. NSW EPA anticipates that the planning industry and agencies will assist Councils through the transitions. NSW EPA are aware that another draft of SEPP 55 and associated planning guidelines will be made available in the future. 

Will the EPA be auditing the self-evaluation program?

  • The EPA will prioritise those sites which self-reported no loss monitoring / leak detection systems and having an ongoing regulatory role for these in the first instance. The results of the self-evaluation program will be provided to councils so they can follow up other matters with those UPSS operators who might have had other less significant non-compliances.

Other notes:

UPSS Regulation Update

  • UPSS Regulation sets out minimum standards for the design, operation, maintenance and monitoring of UPSS.
  • Minimises risk of contamination from UPSS.
  • Intention was for the NSW EPA to be ARA for 4 years and then transition to local council.  This was postponed due to compliance rates, council merges and regulatory capacity. From 01 September 2019, local councils will share the regulatory role with the NSW EPA for UPSS regulation.
  • There are 3000+ operating UPSS sites in NSW.
  • 128 local councils to be come the ARA for around 2,000 UPSS.
  • EPA remains ARA for licensed premises, public authorities and sites under current regulatory action.

Transition Plan

  • Updating guidance materials to ensure consistent with 2019 regulation.
  • Self-evaluation program for service station operators.
  • Developing comprehensive handover packages for council including templates for notices etc. 
  • The training program for council officers begins mid-August. This will involve 14 face to face workshops around the state for council operators. It will run through every aspect of how a UPSS operates and how the regulations apply. That material will turn into online modules which will be available in September for all council operators through the NSW EPA portal.

What does it mean for industry?

  • Streamlined and simplified guidance.
  • Rules will not change, though a few more enforcement rules will apply to assist regulatory authorities to enforce fixing leaks etc.
  • Contamination still to be dealt with under CLM, POEO or SEPP 55.
  • Two regulators with the same regulatory powers and roles.
  • Consistency with approach is important and the NSW EPA is proactively working with councils to achieve this.
  • Regulation published in NSW Government Gazette in 3rd week of August approx.

Regulatory Practice Update

  • Updating guidelines for Consultants Reporting on Contaminated Sites.
  • Updated Guidelines for the assessment and management of hazardous ground gases.
  • Guidelines will be made available for public consultation.

Financial Assurances

  • Environmental Liabilities Team developing guidance on when EPA may require a financial assurance.
  • Powers under CLM under a management order allows EPA to ask for a financial assurance. An example would be the cost of monitoring and maintaining containment cells on an annual basis and mayl require a financial assurance for cost recovery in the event that the EPA needs to intervene and manage the site.
  • Financial assurances can be reviewed and are often stipulated on licence conditions. An independent cost assessment may also be required to ensure that the estimated amount of the financial assurance is appropriate, therefore the process will be a two part process whereby a financial auditor has to cross check cost estimates prepared by a consultant.
  • Insurance is another option for financial assurances and may be stipulated on the licence conditions. This covers issues that you cannot predict or cost. Only few policies are available, therefore the NSW EPA is proactively considering how to manage this and what financial arrangements are appropriate for unexpected environmental incidents. This will also go out for external consultation.

All updates will issued on the NSW EPA website.

Council Regional Capacity Building Program

  • The EPA is running a Council Regional Capacity Building Program over a period of three years.  The program aims to build capacity in the management of contaminated land in NSW by providing grants to groups of councils in regional NSW to employ an officer trained in contaminated land management. The program will ensure that participating councils have contaminated land policies which comply with legislation and procedures for managing contaminated land, as well as council staff have improved knowledge of the legal duties and technical aspects of contaminated land management. The officer will also assist with building capacity to regulate UPSS.
Presenter Name Presenter Company
Arminda Ryan Director, NSW EPA Contaminated Land Management
Joanne Stuart Manager, Regulatory Practice and Programs, NSW EPA
Naomi Lee Operations Officer, NSW EPA

 


7 August NSW Branch report submitted by Arminda Ryan.

Didn't get to attend the event, but would love to review the presentations? Go to the ALGA online library*

* note the access to all the papers in our online library is a member only benefit, for more information or to join click here



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