Caustic soda discharge costs Lithgow City Council $543,000 after EPA action

Lithgow City Council has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to improve its environmental performance after up to 13,000 litres of highly corrosive caustic soda escaped from a sewage treatment plant.

On 28 August 2019, a storage tank fitting failed at Wallerawang Sewage Treatment Plant and caustic soda spilled into a bund and subsequently escaped into an unnamed watercourse and onto adjoining land.

Council did not notify the EPA or implement a Pollution Incident Response Management Plan at the time of the spill.

The incident gave rise to a number of breaches of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, including pollution of waters, land pollution and breaches of Council’s environment protection licence.

The Enforceable Undertaking requires Lithgow City Council to spend $417,000 to drive improvements in Council’s environmental performance including additional training and staff. Council will also contribute a further $100,000 to deliver benefits to the local environment and community. Council must also pay the EPA’s legal and investigation costs totalling $26,759, with up to another $5,000 for EPA monitoring of future compliance with the EU.

The Enforceable Undertaking also requires Council to publish notice of the Enforceable Undertaking in the Village Voice, Lithgow Mercury, Sydney Morning Herald and on Council’s website, which they have done.

EPA Director Regional South Operations Cate Woods said the financial undertaking was substantial and would be put to good use.

“This outcome commits Lithgow City Council to making improvements to their environmental performance as well as driving environmental benefits for the community.”

Enforceable Undertakings are one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance. Through an Enforceable Undertaking, the EPA may secure outcomes such as environmental restoration measures or contributions to environmental projects. The undertaking is enforceable by the Land and Environment Court.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/prosguid.htm

Source: NSW EPA