Contaminated stormwater from a toxic western Sydney worksite the NSW government bought for $53.5m was pumped into the Parramatta River, it can be revealed.
The incident – confirmed by the Environmental Protection Authority – occurred at Transport for NSW’s Parramatta light rail site in Camellia in September 2019, and was followed by a second suspected pollution event at the same location last month, which is now under investigation.
Revelations of the two incidents will add to the government’s headache over the site, which an independent valuer determined it bought for $38m more than it was worth.
The questionable purchase has been referred to both the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the NSW Auditor-General.
The Grand Avenue site was intended as a tram depot for the light rail, but such a use for the land would necessitate a clean-up of the asbestos, hexavalent chromium and other harmful chemicals present there.
“Due to the site’s location, physical and environmental setting, and the nature of contaminants present, contamination conditions and associated risks are unusual and complex,” government officials wrote in a document spelling out the procedures for managing environmental risks at the site.
The document also calls for the state’s Environmental Protection Authority to be contacted in case of a pollution emergency.
That system was put to the test on September 25, 2019, when the transport department self-reported to the EPA about an incident that occurred the week prior.
“The EPA investigated the incident and discovered that the contractor Ventia Pty Ltd manually pumped an unspecified volume of contaminated stormwater into a stormwater drain at the site, which flows in to Parramatta River,” an EPA spokesperson told NCA NewsWire.
“Manual pumping was undertaken to prevent uncontrolled run-off from the site during a very high rainfall event. The EPA then issued Ventia with a formal warning letter.”
The second suspected incident happened on November 25 this year, the week after the details of the government’s $53.5 million purchase of the site broke in the media.
“The EPA received an anonymous report of mud and soil along Grand Ave, which the caller believed to have been tracked out of 6 Grand Ave, Camellia,” the spokesperson said.
“The EPA inspected the area on the same day and confirmed the presence of sediment along Grand Ave.”
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is now investigating the incident.
Transport for NSW said its contractors complied with plans to manage risks to soil, water and air quality around the site.
A spokesperson said erosion and sediment controls were in place, and workers used water carts to manage dust. Local roads were regularly swept and trucks were covered to prevent loads from spilling.
“Additionally, a wheel-wash facility is in place for trucks leaving the construction zone,” the spokesperson said.
“Transport for NSW takes all inquiries and complaints from the community seriously, particularly on a project of this size and scale.”
Ventia has been contacted for comment.
The Camellia site was bought by Transport for NSW in 2016, just months after a previous deal fell through and a property developer swooped in to buy the site for $38m.
That developer made a $15.5 million windfall when the government took over the land.
Pollution remediation works necessary to make the site safe are estimated to cost at least $48m more.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance referred the purchase to ICAC and Auditor-General after journalists began asking questions about the deal.