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A Broad Update from WA’s Environmental Regulator - Q&A Session



Hannah Sumner from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation chaired an interesting discussion on the DWER's progress on the broader issues regarding WA's environmental challenges.

The Department provided an overview of regulatory enforcement processes along with case studies, followed by an update of recent work in three key topic areas; waste regulation and reform (from a contaminated sites perspective), per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and the National Remediation Framework (NRF). Questions were asked during a subsequent Q&A panel session.

What are the major developments, achievements and challenges in waste management?

The Department has completed a review of the thresholds for uncontrolled fill, involving the analysis of available ambient background data from the Swan Coastal Plain. It was acknowledged that the available dataset was limited, but the data generally indicated that the current thresholds are reflective of the highly leached sandy soils typical of the Perth metropolitan area. The review highlighted the challenges of developing a single set of thresholds for assessing the reuse of waste. There is broad support for wider waste reform, which will likely involve a site-specific risk assessment approach. This will be an involved process requiring legislative amendments, including possible changes to the statutory definitions of waste. Consultation on an “end of waste framework” is ongoing and will be open for public comment during the second half of 2019.

The Department has been supporting the development of the draft version of the PFAS National Environmental Management Plan (NEMP) version 2, which is currently open for public consultation. As one of the ongoing research priorities identified in version 1 of the PFAS NEMP, different jurisdictions have committed to obtaining ambient background concentrations of PFAS around Australia to support regulatory decisions, develop criteria and guidelines, and to inform decisions around the ongoing management of legacy PFAS. The Department has recently completed a fieldwork program involving the collection of groundwater and surface water samples in the Perth Metropolitan area. A second phase of fieldwork will be completed at the end of the wet season to provide a seasonal dataset.

The Department provided technical feedback to CRCCARE during the recent public consultation period. While the proposed NRF broadly aligns with WA legislation, there are some key differences such as the definitions of contamination, which in WA includes additional consideration of environmental values, and the definition of remediation which in WA includes management as well as active and passive clean-up techniques. While the NRF does not supersede local regulatory requirements, it is expected that some DWER guidelines are likely to be updated following finalisation of the NRF to create harmonisation between guidance where possible.

What were the key questions raised during the Q&A panel session?

A general question was asked about the availability of information excluded from the public Contaminated Sites database, particularly sites that are classified as possibly contaminated – investigation required (PC-IR). There is no intention to provide information held on the internal DWER Contaminated Sites Register to the public other than through the existing processes specified under the CS Act. The Department confirmed however that although there are restrictions on sharing PC-IR information publically, the Department will advise consultants if useful information is held internally that is worth requesting. 

Questions were raised regarding the review of waste classification thresholds for PFAS, including the potential for inclusion of an uncontaminated fill threshold for PFAS. The Department confirmed that there will not be a threshold for PFAS in uncontrolled fill due to the absence of a level for reuse in the draft revised PFAS NEMP, which is instead expected to provide a decision tree process for the reuse of soil containing PFAS. The Department discussed the possibility that Auditors may play a role in any future application and approval process for the reuse of waste.

There was interest in the availability of data obtained from the recent PFAS baseline survey. The Department confirmed that it is the intention to share this data as widely as possible after the second round of sampling (date for release not confirmed at this stage).

The Department confirmed that there is not an intention for the “Contaminated Land – Certified Environmental Practitioner Scheme” to become mandatory in Western Australia.

How can things be done better as a result of this discussion?:

The discussions highlighted the benefits of a collaborative approach within the industry to continue to progress developments in waste regulation and reform, PFAS management and remediation.

 

Presenter Names
Andrew Miller, Lomas Capelli, Bill Richmond & Rowena Beaton DWER

21 May 2019 NSW event report by Michelle Brierley, DWER
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