Why is council asking me for a Contamination Report for my Development Application?

As Environmental and Contamination Consultants (Sydney) we are often asked by clients “why are council requesting a contamination report ?”.  Why do I require a Preliminary Site Investigation under SEPP 55 ??  What is a Detailed Site Investigation ?? and why do I require one for my development application.  Well as a follow up to our recent articles on contamination we are hoping this series regarding contamination in NSW and contamination in Sydney will inform our clients of the real unseen risks of contamination.  These recent articles which we previously examined along with the current article on contamination by the Sydney Morning Herald outlines where contamination may occur in relation to PAFS (from firefighting foam).

This was developed by 3M and the chemical is believed to have resulted in many cancer cases in the town of Oakdale in Minnesota where there was a manufacturing plant. These chemicals were manufactured by Fortune 500 company 3M for half-a-century, with the two best known of the family called perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).  PFOS was the key ingredient in 3M’s popular fabric protector Scotchguard, and was used widely in firefighting foams, food packaging and metal plating. The company also manufactured vast quantities of PFOA for sale to Dupont to produce Teflon cookware.  PFOS was the key ingredient in 3M’s popular fabric protector Scotchguard, and was used widely in firefighting foams, food packaging and metal plating. The company also manufactured vast quantities of PFOA for sale to Dupont to produce Teflon cookware.

Fairfax media has reported that there are that at least 90 sites across Australia, including 25 in NSW with 10 in Sydney, 16 in Victoria and 15 in Queensland, are under investigation for elevated levels of the contaminants, linked to a slew of health effects including suppression of the immune system, reproductive effects, interference with hormones and some forms of cancer. The sites stretch from Bundaberg to Wangaratta, from Karratha to Botany Bay.  The link to the above article indicates the locations of the sites in NSW with one being located on a school in Winmalee where fire crews practiced previously.  The use of this chemical has been banned in most countries around the world however unfortunately Australia seems to be one of the only countries in the world not to have banned the chemical perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). At least 171 countries have banned the chemical around the world including the USA, China and Europe.  It was added to the Stockholm Convention in 2009 however nearly 10 years later Australia has still not banned the chemical.

Both PFOS and PFOA are very persistent in the environment and contaminate soil, groundwater and have been found in animals on 95% of the planet based on blood analysis.  Around sites contaminated with this chemical people have found banks are withholding loans in the area and valuers are not coming to site when they find out it’s in the exclusion zone.  As such, and in addition to the associated potential health risks of such contamination events, land values suffer making it more difficult to sell and lowering the price.  So why has council requested a Preliminary Site Investigation becomes quite clear when you consider that a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (Preliminary Site Investigation) is used to identify potential risks of contamination to a property.  Groundwater contamination is only one of the potential types of contamination.  Soils are often contaminated by previous use of a site or from illegal dumping which often occurs around larger cities and urban areas (particularly western Sydney).  As Environmental Consultants based in Sydney we come across contamination situations quite often.  As part of any purchase (just like a home inspection) it is well worth obtaining the services of an experienced environmental consultant to undertake an assessment of the property to determine the potential risk of contamination by way of a Phase 1 Preliminary Site Investigation report.  If there is an identified risk of potential contamination then a Phase 2 Detailed Site Investigation should be undertaken to determine if there is contamination present, it type, extent and recommended remediation.  In many countries these reports are extremely common and are linked to the mortgage application process and are requested by the banks before providing finance.  The banks protect their investment by only providing mortgages to customers purchasing a “clean” site.  Australia lags behind somewhat as this is not often a request by banks or thought of by purchasers of property.  It is however a critical part of Due Diligence with any property purchase particularly if it is a farm, disused piece of land or former industrial site or if the history of the site is uncertain.  The impacts of purchasing a contaminated piece of land can include significant health impacts and significant financial losses through clean up costs.

It is unfortunate that Australia is lagging behind in the identification of the risks of Land Contamination which have the potential to seriously impact the health of persons living on or near to such sites.  Contact our qualified and experienced Environmental Consultants Sydney to request a quote on a Contamination Assessment (SEPP 55), Preliminary Site Investigation or Detailed Site Investigation.  We have much experience as Environmental Consultants in the Sydney areas and throughout NSW so when you require an environmental assessment please give us a call.