The environmental audit system for contaminated land provides a mechanism for assuring planning and responsible authorities (eg. Shires and Councils), landholders and other stakeholders that a potentially contaminated site is suitable for use. This is particularly relevant when a development occurs or if a change in land use is proposed.
Stakeholder management of potentially harmful contaminants to the environment (such as soil, groundwater, surface water and vapour) and other relevant receptors is an important objective to consider when undertaking work on a site to ensure approval and consent is granted.
The majority of Australian states and territories have developed legislation, regulations and guidelines for the management of contaminated sites in accordance with the Commonwealth framework. This includes a requirement to undertake environmental audits on certain projects to meet the standards of the EPA or Council.
AEA’s team of experienced auditors and technical support staff are able to provide independent assessment of sites to ensure the relevant conditions relating to the project’s approval have been met.
Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) Auditing
PFCs have permeated products globally for decades. Being man-made there is no natural bacteria that will degrade the compound. They are pervasive and are very soluble – so once it rains or during a fire it will impact local surface water bodies and groundwater.
PFCs are also known as Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). Other known terms are PFOS, PFOA and FTS, and are most commonly found in Fire Fighting Foam (AFFF) and aviation lubricants. Other uses include mist suppressants in metal plating, surfactants in the photographic industry, stain resistant carpets, flame-resistant and waterproof clothing, non-stick coating for cookware, and coating for paper and cardboard.
The main industries that have potential PFAS presence may include airports, aviation facilities, firefighting/training facilities, chrome plating, manufacturing (pesticides, cleaning products, floor polish, etching acid, waterproofing repellent for carpets, food packaging and containers, teflon products), wastewater storage, and landfills.
PFC exposure brings into the public numerous, very sensitive concerns about its effect on humans and disabilities that are incurred. This has sparked concern and interest in regulatory authorities.
Recent guidance has indicated that specific practices should be employed on sites being assessed for PFCs. Practices include restrictions on clothing and food brought onto the site, sampling equipment and containers used and other products. Detailed requirements for drilling, development and sampling methods for groundwater well installation, soil sampling, decontamination and laboratory analysis.
It is imperative that guidance is followed and an AEA auditor can provide confidence that the process implemented on site is consistent with the most recent guidance.
This type of audit is primarily associated with change of land use. Generally, a 53X audit is required when land proposed for new use is potentially contaminated or already covered by an environmental audit overlay (EAO) within a planning scheme.
- A certificate of environmental audit is issued for a property where, following an audit, an environmental auditor believes the environmental condition of the land is suitable for any beneficial use.
- A statement of environmental audit is issued where, following an audit, an environmental auditor believes the land isn’t suitable for all possible beneficial uses, but is suitable for specific uses or developments. It may contain conditions for clean-up or management of contamination. If the land use changes for a property which has been issued an environmental audit, a new audit may be needed.
53V Audits (Risk of Harm Audits)
53V audits are most commonly used by the EPA to understand the risk to the environment posed by an industrial activity or to validate that clean-up of contaminated land or groundwater has occurred. The 53V audit assesses the risk of any possible harm to a site caused by an industrial process or activity, waste substance or noise. This includes audits associated with the construction and operation of landfills.
A 53V audit can be used to demonstrate compliance with an EPA licence or to assess the remaining contamination on a site to support the scope of a clean-up plan. A 53V audit can be required by a planning authority (local government) when there is a planning permit application relating to a site located in a landfill buffer zone.
The site audit statement and site audit report are the outcomes of the audit. The report supports the statement, which comprises four parts. The site audit statement can be to: determine suitability of a site; or nature and extent of contamination and/or appropriateness of investigation/remediation/management plan and/or determine if land can be made suitable by implementing a remedial action/management plan.
Land owners, occupiers and polluters are required to report all known or suspected contaminated sites to DER. Reported sites are assessed and classified by DER (in consultation with Department of Health), based on the risks posed to the community and environment. The classifications are:
- Report Not Substantiated
- Potentially Contaminated – Investigation Required
- Not Contaminated – Unrestricted Use
- Contaminated – Restricted Use
- Remediated – Restricted Use
- Contaminated – Remediation Required
The site auditor performs an audit of the work that the consultant performs and provides a Mandatory Auditor’s Report to DER recommending a classification for the “source site” and any “affected” sites.
A site contamination audit is carried out by an auditor. A site contamination audit (audit) is defined in section 3(1) of the Act as a review carried out by a person that:
a) examines assessments or remediation carried out by another person of known or suspected site contamination on or below the surface of a site; and
b) is for the purpose of determining any one or more of the following matters:
- the nature and extent of any site contamination present or remaining on or below the surface of the site;
- the suitability of the site for a sensitive use or another use or range of uses;
- what remediation is or remains necessary for a specified use or range of uses.
The selection of audit purposes will be determined based on the reason for the audit being carried out. An audit may be carried out or required for one or more of the following reasons:
- to satisfy the requirements of orders or voluntary agreements under the Act
- to satisfy the requirements of the planning process under the Development Act 1993
- for other purposes (ie not specifically required by legislation, such as due diligence).
An environmental audit may be required by the NT EPA or be ordered by the Court on application of the prosecutor. An environmental audit program must be approved by the NT EPA and conducted by a qualified person. Contravention or failure to comply with the requirement of an environmental audit may be considered and offence under the Act.
An environmental audit is an evaluation of any of the following:
a) the ability of management systems to manage waste or prevent, reduce, control, rectify or clean up pollution or environmental harm resulting from pollution;
b) the extent to which actions required to be taken, or results required to be achieved, for waste management or the prevention, reduction, control, rectification or clean-up of pollution or environmental harm resulting from pollution have been taken or achieved;
c) the extent, nature and source of wastes generated by an activity, premises or process;
d) the likelihood of waste management problems or pollution resulting in environmental harm occurring and the adequacy of safeguards in place to prevent their occurrence or limit their impact on the environment;
e) the extent to which compliance with this Act, the Water Act or a code of practice has been achieved;
f) the types, amount, distribution or mobility of contaminants or waste present in the environment.
A contaminated land auditor is responsible for auditing the work of the suitably qualified person (SQP) by evaluating and certifying site investigation and validation reports and drafting the site management plans that are submitted for a decision on a land contamination matter.
Auditors can provide certainty on the regulatory function performed and may assist in streamlining the decision process for land contamination matters. A complex project may benefit from an approved auditor, who can oversee and evaluate the project as well as certifying it at a number of stages.
The functions of a contaminated land auditor are performed outside of the statutory decision timeframes—which are only activated once a submission has been made.
Approved auditors for contaminated land also carry out compliance assessment for development requiring a compliance permit.
Auditors accredited under the NSW or VIC schemes are being used in the ACT and are recognised under Section 75 of the Act as suitable for the purposes of undertaking environmental audits of contaminated land.
An audit can be conducted for the purpose of determining any one or more of the following matters:
- the nature and extent of any contamination of the land;
- the nature and extent of the assessment or remediation;
- what assessment or remediation remains necessary before the land is suitable for any specified use or range of uses; and
- the comprehensiveness of a remedial action plan for contaminated land.
On completion of an audit, the auditor is required to issue a site audit statement (or certificate of environment audit). Prior to issuing a site audit statement, the auditor must complete a site audit report which summarises the basis and rational for the conclusions in the site audit statement.
The main purpose of an audit is to determine whether a site is suitable for a particular use or range of uses.