2020 September – Maddingley Brown Coal, Bacchus Marsh. PFAS soil dump

EPA approves controversial West Gate Tunnel Project soil-dumping plan for Bacchus Marsh



Residents in a community west of Melbourne are bitterly disappointed that a controversial plan to dump contaminated soil from the West Gate Tunnel Project near their town has been approved by the state’s environmental regulator.

Long-term Bacchus Marsh resident and activist Kat Barlow described the decision as “extraordinarily disappointing”.

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) was found in soil during the construction of the West Gate Tunnel Project in Melbourne.

The presence of the toxic chemical group has led to class actions nationally due to its link to cancer, although Australian health authorities deny this link.

Its discovery in the tunnel’s construction soil soon led to speculation it would be dumped at a mining and landfill site operated by Maddingley Brown Coal in Bacchus Marsh.

Hundreds in the community staged protests against the proposal this year and demanded more information from the project’s builders Transurban and the Victorian Government.

On Tuesday, the state’s environmental regulator said it had approved Environment Management Plans (EMP) for Maddingley Brown Coal in Bacchus Marsh and Hi Quality in Bulla to receive tunnel boring machine spoil from the West Gate Tunnel Project.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) said it had assessed the plans for “potential environmental impacts, such as runoff, odour, and potential land, surface water and ground water risks”.

Ms Barlow and many other locals have been opposing the plan via their group Bacchus Marsh Community Coalition.

She said while it did not appear that the deal was completely signed off, the EPA’s decision was a “massive step forward” for the proposal.

State Government says approvals process is ‘strict’

Ms Barlow called on the Victorian Government to intervene.

In a statement, a State Government spokesperson said the EPA’s approval was strict.

“The EPA’s approval sets strict requirements, to protect the environment and the health of the community, that these sites would have to meet if they are selected to take tunnel soil from the project,” the statement said.

“While this is a positive step towards getting tunnelling underway it is just one step in a rigorous process.

It added that testing had shown the amount of PFAS from groundwater extracted from the spoil by the tunnel boring machines was low and at safe levels for the community.

In a statement, the region’s local council also slammed the EPA approval.

“Moorabool Shire Council is extremely disappointed to hear that the EPA has approved the EMP for Maddingley Brown Coal (MBC) to accept, store and categorise contaminated soil from the West Gate Tunnel Project,” the council said.

“Council has been stonewalled and blocked from receiving the environmental documentation that outlines the potential impact to the community, environment and food bowl.