‘We cop it’: Residents filthy over planned soil-washing plant

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Key points

  • Waste management company ResourceCo has applied for a licence to operate a soil washing facility in Brooklyn. 
  • The site is in an industrial estate at 125 Bunting road in Brooklyn which is about 400 metres from neighbouring homes.
  • ResourceCo told residents the facility expected to receive 200 tonnes of material an hour from 6am to 6pm Monday to Friday and would process up to 500,000 tonnes a year. 

A dust-up is brewing over a plan to build a plant to wash contaminated soil in Melbourne’s west, with residents saying they are sick of living in the city’s dumping ground.

Waste management company ResourceCo has applied for a licence to operate the facility in Brooklyn, but residents say processing large quantities of soil there would endanger their health and wellbeing.

Residents Geoff Mitchelmore, Carmen Largaiolli and Bert Boere outside the site of the proposed soil cleaning plant in Brooklyn. Credit: Darrian Traynor

Bert Boere said people in the area were already subjected to dust and dirt from ResourceCo’s existing recycling facility. He said he feared the addition of the soil washing plant would make things worse.

“You get a strong wind that blows off the top, we cop it,” he said. “You don’t know what’s in this material. Is it just dust? But even fine dust is not good for your lungs and particularly for kids.”

ResourceCo said in a letter sent to residents that the proposed facility would enable it to process contaminated and potentially contaminated materials such as soil, street sweeping, ecological and drilling waste so that it could be reused.

The site is in an industrial estate at 125 Bunting Road in Brooklyn – about 400 metres from homes.

ResourceCo told residents that the facility expected to receive 200 tonnes of material an hour from 6am to 6pm Monday to Friday and would process up to 500,000 tonnes a year.

The company said it had undertaken a human health and environmental risk assessment of the proposed facility looking at potential impacts to air quality, odour, noise, land and water.

“The risk assessment found that generally the risks were assessed to be ‘low’, and there were no residual risks identified as ‘high’ or ‘extreme’,” the letter states.

Altona resident Geoff Mitchelmore said locals had been living with a dusty environment for 20 years and the risk assessment needed to go further.

“That’s not good enough for the community,” he said. “That is like saying, ‘Well, there’s some dangerous material here, but we think we can handle it’. If they only think they can handle it, maybe they can’t and then the Brooklyn community is going to cop it.”

The Inner West Air Quality Community Reference Group last week wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews and Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt opposing the soil washing facility.

“A facility of this nature is totally unsuitable for a site only nine kilometres from the Melbourne CBD, particularly in a community whose health and wellbeing is already severely impacted by air pollution,” the letter states. “It must be located outside metropolitan Melbourne.”

The community group cites the state government-funded report Air Pollution in Melbourne’s Inner West, published in 202, which found that inner west communities were exposed to air pollution impacts at a far greater rate than the rest of Melbourne with dust, odour, industrial and transport emissions as primary contributors.

Residents said they already have to combat high levels of dust from the existing recycling plant operated by ResourceCo. Credit: Darrian Traynor

“Air pollution creates serious risks for our communities’ health, quality of life and amenity,
with … three municipalities experiencing hospital admission rates for asthma, heart failure
and heart disease as well as lung cancer incidence at rates well above the Australian average,” the letter states.

The community group said the proposed facility would add to already existing dust and transport pollution with Brooklyn about to experience an extra 7000 trucks a day when the West Gate Tunnel project opens.

“This community has been fighting for more than 20 years for the right to breathe clean air and
are sick and tired of being the city’s dumping ground,” the letter states. “This proposal has left residents distressed and wondering if their plight will ever be taken seriously.”

A spokeswoman for ResourceCo said the company was at the beginning of the application process for the proposed soil washing facility.

The state government funded report Air Pollution in Melbourne’s Inner West published in 2020 found that inner west communities are exposed to air pollution impacts at a far greater rate than the rest of Melbourne. Credit: Darrian Traynor

“As a part of this process, proactive community engagement is currently under way,” the spokeswoman said. “The proposed facility is an extension of our existing soil reuse and recycling capabilities to remove contaminants from soil, making it ready for reuse.”

Residents also raised concerns that ResourceCo was tendering to provide soil washing for the North East Link project at the new facility, but the spokeswoman said the company already provided services to the North East Link project and the proposed plant was not linked to that work.

A spokesman for the state government declined to comment on the impact of the proposed facility on residents.

The spokesman said the North East Link project’s major tunnelling contractor had not yet confirmed locations for the reuse or disposal of dirt and rock from tunnelling works and the contract was out for tender.

“The dirt and rock we will dig from the North East Link tunnels is mostly coming from underneath parkland, we know from extensive testing that it has a very low likelihood of contamination and much of it will be reused in the construction of the project,” he said. “There is more than enough capacity in existing, licensed facilities to accept any dirt and rock that can’t be reused on site.”

ResourceCo’s proposal will be assessed by Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

Hobsons Bay Mayor Tony Briffa said the council had not seen the proposal and it understood it would see the document only if the EPA granted a licence.

“It is impossible to comment on the substance of the proposal without more information,” she said.

Briffa said council continued to support the group to help to reduce the pressures on air quality, people’s health and the enjoyment of their property and the area.

“We look forward to continue working with key stakeholders to improve the air we breath.”

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