Duty to notify pollution incidentsThere is a duty to report pollution incidents under section 148 of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act). This is a guide to the duty, in simple terms. Consult the POEO Act for details. Important changes have been made to the duty to notify provisions as a result of the Protection of the Environment Legislation Amendment Act 2011 (Amendment Act). Those changes commence on 6 February 2012, and are designed to ensure that appropriate authorities have the information they need to respond within an appropriate time. Contact numbers - For contact numbers regarding concerns about pollution, regardless of whether there is a duty to report pollution, see Reporting Pollution.
Why notify? Leaks, spills and other pollution incidents can harm the environment. Each of the following response agencies needs to be informed of pollution incidents quickly, so action can be coordinated to prevent or limit harm to the environment and human health generally:
appropriate regulatory authority (ARA)
Environment Protection Authority (EPA) if they are not the ARA
Ministry of Health
local authority, if they are not the ARA
Fire and Rescue NSW.
What must be notified? Pollution incidents causing or threatening material harm to the environment must be notified. A 'pollution incident' includes a leak, spill or escape of a substance, or circumstances in which this is likely to occur.
'Pollution incident' is defined in the Dictionary to the Act and is reproduced at the end of this document.
'Material harm to the environment' is defined in section 147. Material harm includes on-site harm, as well as harm to the environment beyond the premises where the pollution incident occurred.
If the EPA licenses the activity causing the incident, the licence conditions may include incident notification requirements that apply in addition to the duty under section 148. Emergency response. If a pollution incident occurs, all necessary action should be taken to minimise the size and any adverse effects of the release. If the incident presents an immediate threat to human health or property, Fire and Rescue NSW, the NSW Police and the NSW Ambulance Service should be contacted first for emergency assistance - phone 000. The other response agencies must still be contacted after that to satisfy notification obligations. Contaminated land Persons whose activities have contaminated land and owners of land who become aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that the land has been contaminated must notify the EPA as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the contamination, if the contamination meets certain criteria. The duty to notify is a requirement under section 60 of the CLM Act. A person has a duty to notify if that person ought reasonably to have been aware of the contamination. For more information please use the following link - Contaminated Land regulation Who must notify? Under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act), the following people have a duty to notify a pollution incident occurring in the course of an activity that causes or threatens material harm to the environment:
the person carrying on the activity
an employee or agent carrying on the activity
an employer carrying on the activity
the occupier of the premises where the incident occurs.
Notification must be given immediately, i.e. promptly and without delay, after the person becomes aware of the incident. You do not have to report if you know that all relevant authorities have already been notified by the licensee: section 151.
Only persons engaged in the activity resulting in the pollution incident, and occupiers of the land where the incident occurs, have a duty to report the incident. If you are concerned about pollution, and an approach to the person causing the problem is not possible or is unlikely to be successful, please raise the concern with the relevant authority. Who do you tell (relevant authorities)?
Pollution incidents posing material harm to the environment should be notified to each 'relevant authority' as defined in section 148(8) of the POEO Act. 'Relevant authority' means:
the appropriate regulatory authority (ARA)
the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) if they are not the ARA
the Ministry of Health
the WorkCover Authority
the local authority, e.g. the local council, if this is not the ARA
What information must you provide? In general terms, sufficient detail of the incident must be reported to enable appropriate follow-up action. The information required is listed in section 150. Any required information that is not known when the incident is notified must be notified immediately once it becomes known.
Incriminating information A person must notify even though the notification might incriminate the person. However the notification is not admissible in evidence against the person for an offence. This qualification does not relate to any evidence obtained following or as a result of the notification. The relevant provision is section 153.
Checklist Could a spill or leak associated with your activity harm the environment? If so:
are the people carrying out the activity, including casual or shift workers, or contractors, aware of their duty to notify?
do they know who to notify?
is the need for notification signposted or otherwise incorporated into operation and emergency procedures?
Penalties If you fail to report a pollution incident posing material harm to the environment as required under Part 5.7 of the Act, you commit an offence. The maximum penalty is $2,000,000 for corporations, or $500,000 for individuals.
Examples Effluent overflow Part of your job is to manage an effluent treatment works. The works fail, resulting in an overflow likely to have an adverse affect on the ecosystem of a creek. You have a duty to notify your employer and the appropriate regulatory authority (ARA), the EPA if they are not the ARA, the Ministry of Health, the WorkCover Authority, the local authority if this is not the ARA and Fire and Rescue NSW.
Chemical leak A by-product of your company's manufacturing activity is a liquid chemical waste, which is stored in drums in a shed prior to collection by a waste contractor. There is no sign on the shed stating what to do if a leak occurs. A neighbour complains to the EPA about offensive odours and damage to vegetation near the shed. The EPA investigates, and finds leaking drums. The employees who knew about the leak believed that the waste contractor would attend to the problem, and did not advise company management and the relevant authorities. Your company is prosecuted for failure to notify the incident, in addition to other offences in relation to waste management. It is no defence that the relevant employees were ignorant of the duty to notify. Employers must take all reasonable steps, for example erecting a sign, to ensure that employees will notify them of incidents.
section 147: Meaning of material harm to the environment
section 148: Pollution incidents causing or threatening material harm to the environment
section 149: Manner and form of notification
section 150: Relevant information to be given
section 151: Incidents not required to be reported
section 152: Offence for breaching duty to notify pollution incidents
section 153: Incriminating information
Definition of 'pollution incident. 'Pollution incident means an incident or set of circumstances during or as a consequence of which there is or is likely to be a leak, spill or other escape or deposit of a substance, as a result of which pollution has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur. It includes an incident or set of circumstances in which a substance has been placed or disposed of on premises, but it does not include an incident or set of circumstances involving only the emission of any noise.
Page last updated: 25 June 2013
Reporting PollutionIn most cases, concerns about pollution should be referred to the source or person causing the problem. The contact telephone numbers on this page should be used when an approach to the person causing the problem has not been or is unlikely to be successful. Duty to notify A person conducting an activity who becomes aware that the activity has caused or is likely to cause serious or material environmental harm from pollution must notify the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) as soon as possible. Failure to notify may lead to a maximum penalty of $5,500 for an individual or $27,500 for a company.
ACT pollution hotline To report any of the types of pollution for which the EPA has responsibility, contact the EPA by calling Access Canberra on 13 22 81.
Quick links: WATER | AIR | NOISE | WASTE & LITTER | CHEMICAL | OTHER The detail of anyone who provides information regarding a pollution incident is treated as confidential. If the incident falls within the jurisdiction of another government agency, the details of the incident may be referred to the relevant agency for action. Emergencies If adequate resources are not available to contain material released in a pollution incident and it threatens public health, property or the environment, the ACT Fire Brigade should be contacted for emergency assistance - phone 000.
Further information For further information, contact the EPA by calling Access Canberra on 13 22 81 Contacts for water pollutionPollution type or source Organisation responsible Telephone Stormwater system and waterways
EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Sewer overflows Actew AGL131 193 Fish kills EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Algal blooms EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Industry causing water, air, land or noise pollution EPA13 22 81 (24 hours)Back to top Contacts for air pollutionPollution type or source Organisation responsibleTelephone Industry causing air, water, land or noise pollution EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Smoky motor vehicles (ACT registered) Road User Services13 22 81 Aircraft Air Services Australia1800 802 584 Domestic wood heater EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Backyard burning EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Major fires (industrial or bushland) ACT Fire Brigade000Back to top Contacts for noise pollution Pollution type or source Organisation responsible Telephone Industry causing noise, air, water and land pollution EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Commercial premises – noise from ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Aircraft (including hot air balloons) Air Services Australia1800 802 584 Noisy vehicles (mechanical) Road User Services13 22 81 Traffic Noise Roads ACT 13 22 81 Warming up of motor vehicles EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Construction and Land Development EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Motor sports and gun/rifle/pistol clubs EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Sporting facilities EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) People noise Australian Federal Police (02) 6256 7777 Patron Noise from Licensed Venue Office of Regulatory Services(02) 6207 0562 Amplified music from concert events EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Animal Noise Domestic Animal Services13 22 81 Noise from residential premises, power tools, loud music, air conditioners, pool pumps, etc. EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Building intruder or car alarms EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Back to top Contacts for waste and litter pollution Pollution type or source Organisation responsible TelephoneI llegal dumping of solid and liquid wastes (including soil) EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Contaminated sites EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Abandoned vehicle City Rangers 13 22 81 Littering from vehicles City Rangers13 22 81 Roadside litter City Rangers13 22 81 Illegal dumping on unleased territory land City Rangers13 22 81 Illegal dumping in nature reserves Parks and Conservation Service13 22 81 Back to topContacts for chemical pollutionPollution type or source Organisation responsible Telephone Transport of dangerous goods Worksafe ACT13 22 81 Chemical spills EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Contaminated sites EPA13 22 81 (24 hours) Pesticides, herbicides EPA13 22 81 (24 hours)Back to top Contacts for other environmental concernsPollution type or source Organisation responsibleT elephone Damaging plants or animals in nature reserves Parks and Conservation Service13 22 81 Tree damaging activity (urban trees) Tree Protection 13 22 81 Disturbance of Aboriginal sites Heritage13 22 81 Disturbance of Heritage places or objects Heritage13 22 81 Injured or orphaned native wildlifeParks and Conservation Service RSPCA 13 22 81 (24 hours) (02) 6287 8113
Identifying and reporting pollution The Victorian community has a vital role in protecting the environment. EPA relies on the community to report incidents of pollution, environmental hazard or other activities potentially harmful to the environment.
What is pollution?Pollution is the introduction of substances into water, land or the atmosphere, so that the condition is adversely altered to be:
detrimental to its use, or
harmful to the health or welfare of humans.
What is the environment?The environment that EPA strives to protect includes:
land, water, atmosphere and climate
sound, odours, tastes and aesthetics.
What is an environmental hazard?An environmental hazard is a danger to humans or the environment caused by inappropriate storage or handling of toxic, corrosive, flammable, explosive, or infectious substances.For example, storage of dangerous chemicals or waste products in unsealed containers beside a creek.
EPA sets and enforces standards regulating permissible levels of emission, discharge and deposit to the environment. Causing pollution above these levels constitutes an offence.
The 'what to report' section below provides examples of the types of emission, discharge or deposit that breach the law and that EPA will investigate.
Contact your council if activity on residential premises is causing pollution or unreasonable noise.
What to report
Emissions from industry:
foul-smelling or abnormal emissions
offensive or chemical odour
objectionable noise affecting you in your home
Any foreign substances entering the water, shown by:
visible sheen or discolouration of water
substances being discharged into stormwater drains for example oil, fuel or paint
discharge or leak of waste liquids or solids into a watercourse (bypassing a water treatment system)
multiple fish deaths, indicating environmental stress, which may be caused by a pollutant.
excessive smoke from a vehicle
littering from a vehicle - for example, a food packet, a lit or unlit cigarette butt.
Waste and chemical offences:
dumping waste on any premises not licensed for this purpose. Dumping includes burying or stockpiling waste and is illegal whether it occurs on public or privately owned land
inadequate storage or handling of chemicals or waste.
When identifying and reporting pollution, please retain your notes in case we need to contact you to clarify the information.
What information to provide
What is happening? Is the problem a smell and, if so, how would you describe it? If the problem is a discharge to a creek, what colour is it and what distance or area does it cover?
When was it first observed? It's better if you can give an exact time (for example, 10.30 am), rather than just 'this morning'. Also report if you've noticed the problem before and whether it's still happening at the time of your report.
Where is it happening? Give the name of the street, with the nearest cross-street. If the problem is a discharge to a creek, tell us which side of the creek it's coming from. If it's obviously coming from a building, who operates it? Include a Melways reference if possible.
Your contact details? We'd like your name, address and daytime number in case we need to clarify the report. The information will, of course, be kept in strict confidence. In some cases we may also need to contact people affected by or reporting an incident, to see if they're available as a witness if legal proceedings result from our investigations.
What happens next? EPA officers will review the pollution report to assess the risk to the environment based on the circumstances and any previous related incidents. Based on this assessment our officers will decide on the most appropriate response.
An assessment of the pollution report considers to two key factors; the potential resulting harm to environment, public health and/or community amenity, and the how likely it is that EPA can detect and mitigate that harm and prevent future harms. This is consistent with the risk-based approach in the Compliance and Enforcement Policy.
EPA may choose to make one of a number of different responses, depending on the assessment of the pollution report:
Advise another agency already in attendance (eg. emergency services)
Conduct an inspection (either planned to coincide with other work, or immediate)
Conduct a desktop investigation
Refer it to another agency
Take no action
Some examples of different types of responses:
A report of pollution entering a waterway may need a fast response, particularly if the pollution might still be occurring. EPA would therefore respond immediately.
However if a report is about pollution that occurred in the past, a desktop investigation, including water authorities and others, may be deemed as more suitable.
EPA often plans inspections resulting from reports of unreasonable noise and odour to coincide with any reported patterns of pollution (for example, if noise is always reported between 8-9pm on weeknights, an inspection would be scheduled for that time). Response to a report of unreasonable noise or odour may be escalated if we can show that multiple people are affected.
A business who self-reports a small spill which has already been cleaned up may not be inspected by EPA following the pollution report. If EPA visits the site in the future, the report would be reviewed and considered.
Even if EPA officers do not immediately respond to a pollution report, all reports are logged in the system to assist EPA with any future assessments
To report pollution incidents, pollution from a commercial source or fish kills phone the Pollution Hotline - 1300 130 372
Examples of pollution incidents include oil or chemical spills, sewage spills, truck rollovers, factory fires or animal disease outbreaks. Pollution incidents can be reported 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To report suspected unlicensed waste transport, storage, disposal or recycling activities phone the Pollution Hotline - 1300 130 372 or email email@example.com with as much of the following information as possible:
name of alleged offender or business name
contact details of alleged offender (phone, email, website, number plate)
location of suspected illegal waste activity
type of suspected illegal waste activity
your contact details (phone, name, email).
Reports can be made anonymously.
To report nuisance issues and pollution from a residential property contact your local council.
Report environmental nuisance or minor water contaminationEnvironmental nuisance occurs when noise, dust, odour or light are unreasonable and make it difficult to lead your life. Minor water contamination can be caused when contaminants are released into creeks, water courses, roadside gutters or stormwater drainage. Prohibited water contaminants include chemicals, waste oils, paint, industrial wastes, clay, gravel and sediment, lawn clippings, leaves and pruning waste, and vehicles and their components such as batteries and tyres. You can formally complain about environmental nuisance or minor water contamination by contacting your local council. Council officers will investigate to decide whether there is an environmental issue. People or organisations causing environmental nuisance or minor water contamination can be made to change their activities or pay a fine, and in some cases can be taken to court. Where the source of the environmental nuisance is caused by a state or local government authority, or comes from an Environmentally Relevant Activity (ERA), phone 1300 130 372. An ERA is an activity with the potential to release contaminants into the environment, but which is regulated by state or local governments. Read more about environmental nuisance issues and ERAs. For major water contamination incidents that could result in serious environmental harm (e.g. drinking water contamination, major fish kill) phone the Pollution Hotline on 1300 130 372. Other types of complaintsSome situations are managed by specific authorities.