7 May 2023

Gipps Street chemical spill contained but council says we must do better

| Dione David
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Chemical spill in Wollongong

Wollongong City Council continues its investigation into a chemical spill at a waterway near Gipps Street, Wollongong. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

Officials are calling for better waste disposal practices from all community members following a chemical spill in a Wollongong waterway.

The cleanup by Wollongong City Council staff and NSW Fire and Rescue’s HAZMAT team is now complete at the waterway near Gipps Street, Wollongong, which flows into Fairy Creek.

Investigations continue into its origin, but with no solid leads, given the number of potential sources in the large surrounding industrial area.

Council staff were dispatched to the site to investigate on Thursday 27 April immediately following a report from a concerned community member.

The common wetting agent detected in the water, SPAN 85, is an irritant that can cause environmental harm including to aquatic and marine life.

Council and HAZMAT worked overnight to capture and remove the contaminated water. A hose was used to flush and dilute the irritant with fresh water.

READ ALSO Illawarra Marine Rescue units among busiest in state over summer

The contaminated liquid was captured in a specially designed truck and taken to a licensed waste facility.

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM said all in all it was a “very costly exercise”.

“This kind of spill requires time and resources to contain, then we have to dispose of the waste in a licensed waste facility,” he said.

“Anything of this nature has to be dealt with appropriately. It’s not cheap, and ultimately the ratepayer picks up the bill.”

The Lord Mayor said thanks to last week’s efforts the situation was managed but was indicative of a broader issue.

“This sort of thing doesn’t happen often, and this was not a highly toxic chemical, but anything in the natural scheme of things is problematic,” he said.

“These are sensitive waterways. They contain all sorts of aquatic life, not just fish, and can ultimately flow into the ocean, impacting marine life and birds.

“What concerns me more, however, is illegal dumping. This doesn’t always get into our waterways but if not found and cleaned up before heavy rainfall events, can easily do so.

“Illegal dumping is a big issue in our city.”

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM said illegal dumping was a big problem in Wollongong. Photo: Wollongong City Council.

Cr Bradbery said illegal dumping often sprung from an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.

“There’s an attitude by a certain section of the community that if they get it off their property, it’s no longer their problem,” he said.

“Any chemical – whether it be paint, household cleaning agents, oils, solvents – can have significant potential implications for the environment if not stored and disposed of correctly.

“Council has put systems in place to ensure everyone can dispose of these properly.”

Cr Bradbery pointed to contamination events at mines in Mount Kembla and Helensburgh and certain Illawarra coal facilities but stressed that chemical contamination could just as easily spring from households.

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“We urge the public to ensure they use the special chemical drop-off program organised by council with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” he said.

“They exist for a reason and are very well advertised and easily accessible.

“Council takes pollution of our city’s waterways and natural spaces seriously, and so should we all.”

Under NSW State Government legislation there are significant fines for environmental pollution.

Businesses can be issued fines of up to $5 million for the most serious offences and charged for cleanup costs.

To provide information on the Gipps Street spill or report illegal dumping contact Wollongong City Council’s customer service team on (02) 4227 7111.

For more information on the free Household Chemical CleanOut events visit the EPA, or see drop-off dates for the Illawarra here. For information on disposing of “problem waste” responsibly, visit Wollongong City Council.

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