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Cheltenham contamination investigation

20 January 2016

Following below is the media release from the Environment Protection Authority regarding a local incident.

Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is investigating a site at 1228 Nepean Highway, Cheltenham, following a report on Monday of trichloroethylene (TCE) vapours coming from underground.

TCE was discovered as part of an environmental audit of the site that had been vacant for seven years and reported to EPA as required under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

Environmental audits are designed to ensure there are no legacy environmental issues that might impact the community.

EPA Southern Metro Manager Leigh Bryant said that, although long-term exposure to TCE at very high levels can pose a health risk, people were not in any immediate danger from the contamination.

‘As a precaution, residents and business occupiers in the area adjacent to the site, with basements or underground cellars where vapours could potentially build up, should keep these well ventilated to minimise any possible exposure to TCE. The community should also avoid any direct contact with groundwater,’ Mr Bryant said.

EPA is undertaking a full investigation to determine the nature and concentration of TCE in the local environment and to fully evaluate its distribution. EPA is working closely with the Chief Health Officer to identify and communicate any health risks to the community.

‘EPA is working directly with the Department of Health and Human Services, WorkSafe, Kingston City Council and other relevant agencies throughout its investigations to assess any environmental or health issues,’ Mr Bryant said.

Mr Bryant said that EPA officers would be seen in the area over coming days with monitoring equipment that will enable further testing to understand the extent and source of the contamination.

‘Uniformed EPA staff will also be in the area and people should feel free to approach them if they have any questions. EPA will inform the community of preliminary results from our monitoring this afternoon and more detailed results are anticipated to be released in coming weeks,’ Mr Bryant said.

‘EPA will continue to work with the local community to ensure any environmental issues are appropriately managed.’

Mr Bryant said EPA was also gathering further information about historic land uses that might be a source of the contamination related to the site and its surrounds.

Residents wanting more information or who have any concerns should call EPA on 1300 372 842 or visit www.epa.vic.gov.au

Anyone with concerns about their health should seek medical advice or call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24.

Background

TCE is a liquid that is denser than water, which means it can easily drain through soil and eventually reach groundwater, where it can move in whichever direction groundwater is travelling. It’s common for pollutants in groundwater to spread well beyond the source site, and the contamination issue can often be difficult to identify.

TCE from groundwater can turn into vapour that has the potential to enter properties through pathways such as stormwater pipes and service pits. The TCE may have been present for some time; however, it is not uncommon to find such contamination through the environmental audit process.

TCE was widely used in industrial areas as a degreaser and for cleaning machinery parts. It was often stored onsite in large drums or underground storage tanks, and its main use as a solvent to wash machinery parts meant that it was often spilled or discarded onto land or into drains. Sometimes the waste TCE – along with other chemicals – was disposed of in old quarries and tip sites.

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