Tomago hazardous waste company in damage control after pollution alert

HydroMet ordered to clean up its Tomago site and remove all chemicals pending testing of nearby drainage channels.A HAZARDOUS waste company boasting its “leadership in environmental technology” is in damage control after pollution alerts involving up to 500,000 litres of substances at Tomago, including arsenic, lead and sulfuric acid.
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The NSW Environment Protection Authority has ordered HydroMet Corporation to remove all hazardous waste and chemicals from its Tomago site by March, and to test for “a full suite of metals” in neighbouring drainage channels.

It follows criticism by the EPA after tests showing lead concentrations “significantly exceeding” national standards, elevated levels of selenium in drains outside the property, and storage of up to 500,000 litres of substances, some in “very high concentrations” , described by the EPA as “inadequate”, “corroded”, “failing and/or failed” and “compromised”.

On December 3 the EPA accelerated clean-up orders issued in August 2014, and upgraded earlier this year, after selenium was found in drainage channels outside the School Drive property in October, leading to concerns that other hazardous or toxic substances might have leached from the site.

The accelerated clean-up orders followed tests which found the top 10 centimetres of soil on part of the Tomago site recorded a value of 12,000 milligrams per kilogram of lead which “significantly exceeds” national health-based investigation levels of 1500 milligrams per kilogram.

A report prepared for HydroMet took only limited soil and groundwater samples on site, the EPA said. It limited testing in nearby drainage channels to selenium. The EPA ordered testing of the “full suite” of heavy metals in the drainage channel system between School Drive and Tomago Road.

“The sampling plan must include proposed analysis of the full suite of metals and any other hazardous or toxic substances that have historically been stored and/or processed at the premises, and be extensive enough to clearly define the area of any contamination present, in or around the drains, soils and groundwater,” the December 3 clean-up notice said.

In a statement on Friday EPA Hunter manager Adam Gilligan said the clean-up of more than 2000 tonnes of chemicals from the property “had not been as quick as we would have liked”, after the company was fined in August 2014 for inadequate storage of hazardous materials.

The EPA ordered all chemicals to be removed from the site to HydroMet’s Unanderra facility at Wollongong, to “understand the level of contaminated soil and groundwater on site”.

“While there are no immediately apparent health concerns for the local community, the EPA will monitor the situation and review if any further action is required,” Mr Gilligan said.

HydroMet’s Tomago operation was placed in care and maintenance in 2014.

The company’s website said the Tomago site recovered precious metals, selenium, copper and tellurium from copper and nickel smelter residues, with “clients from countries including Norway, USA, Canada and South Africa”.

An EPA inspection in August 2014 found tanks and bunds showing “poor maintenance practices”, with corroded or “failed” drums of substances including arsenic, lead, chromium, barium and cadmium.

A pollution incident had occurred, or was likely to occur, because of “the failure to maintain the premises in a proper and efficient condition leading to pollution of land and possibly waters”, the EPA said.

HydroMet did not respond to a request for comment.

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