The Committee decided to focus its initial inquiry into the urgent matter of three major fires relating to the waste and resource recovery system in Victoria since 2017. Two of those fires, at Coolaroo in 2017 and at Campbellfield in 2018, were related to over-stocking of recyclable and chemical waste. The third, at West Footscray in 2018, was related to illegal stockpiling of industrial and chemical waste. It is these issues that the Committee has addressed in its interim report.
There are a number of hearings that have not yet been held at the time of tabling the interim report, including a number of regional hearings. There are also a large number of submissions still to be analysed. As a result, the Committee is not addressing the broader issues being examined in this inquiry in this interim report. These broader issues of recycling and waste management, as outlined in the terms of reference, will be covered in detail in the final report, which is due to be tabled in November 2019.
Emergency services personnel have been put at serious risk as a result of regulatory non-compliance by private companies and individuals.
While the information provided by the EPA and other agencies suggests that for the most part, air and waterway quality did not exceed human health guidelines, the Committee is concerned that some community members have reported adverse health impacts as a result of the fires.
The Committee notes that while there are structures in place to ensure communication to the public during emergency responses, it is apparent there is not strong awareness about these communication channels in metropolitan areas.
The Committee also finds that there was inadequate communication from the relevant agencies to the community about public health risks during and after the emergency.
The Committee is concerned that there may have been inadequate investigatory, compliance and enforcement responses to reported pollution events, particularly in metropolitan waterways, in recent years.
There is regulatory overlap and a lack of a coordinated approach to fire safety regulation in the waste and resource recovery industry. The Committee looks forward to the outcome of the review of the regulatory framework governing fire risks at sites storing combustible recyclable and waste materials, including making significant recommendations and changes to the regulation, oversight and coordination of the response to fire risk at these sites.