Environment Protection Authority Contaminant Testing Adjournment Speech: Legislative Council 21/08/2013


Delivered in the Legislative Council, August 21, 2013.

Mr Barry Buffier is the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Environment Protection Authority of New South Wales. Last week he appeared before a parliamentary estimates committee where I asked him questions concerning the investigation by the Environment Protection Authority into contaminated soil in the Sydney suburbs of Botany and Hillsdale. Since concerns were raised in the Sun-Herald last month regarding the Environment Protection Authority's actions, Mr Buffier has waged an aggressive campaign against those who have dared to question the actions of the Environment Protection Authority.

At the parliamentary estimates committee hearing Mr Buffier used parliamentary privilege to launch an assault on both an independent mercury expert, Mr Andrew Helps, and on Fairfax Media Limited journalist Natalie O'Brien. These attacks are part of a pattern by Mr Buffier of assaulting anyone who dares question the actions of the Environment Protection Authority under his leadership. Many questions have been validly asked by environmental experts, members of the Botany community, journalists and members of this Parliament concerning the testing of contaminated soil at Botany. Those questions relate to issues such as the averaging of the 15 samples taken by the Environment Protection Authority.

When a child ingests soil, usually through their fingernails after playing in dirt, they do not ingest an average sample of soil, they ingest one piece of soil. At Botany, testing revealed hotspots where levels of toxic chemicals were above a health investigation level that should have required notification to the community and follow-up activity by the Environment Protection Authority. I am talking about polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], lead and mercury. These are serious matters. It also appears that the Environment Protection Authority moved away from what it said in its May 2013 press release, that sample results were compared with health-based investigation levels for residential land use, to now saying that a weaker standard—recreational C—applies. The Environment Protection Authority argues that nature strips in front of a residential block do not form part of the residential block and therefore residential standards do not need to apply. I do not believe that argument would find favour with members of the community.

At the same time as the most senior executive in the Environment Protection Authority bullies those who have questioned the authority's work at Botany, the Environment Protection Authority has been humiliated at the Land and Environment Court, withdrawing from its prosecution of chemical giant Du Pont Australia Limited. A herbicide destroyed vegetation throughout the Western Sydney suburb of Girraween and hundreds of trees, shrubs and other plants were destroyed. The Environment Protection Authority commenced prosecution proceedings against Du Pont after conducting, according to Mr Buffier, "probably the largest and most exhaustive investigation we have done for an environmental incident".

In a letter to the residents of Girraween, the Environment Protection Authority boasted that the commencement of the prosecution followed eight months of intensive investigation, including hundreds of hours of gathering evidence from local residents and businesses, chemical sampling and analysis, and weeks of complex forensic work. The Environment Protection Authority withdrew the charge and dropped the case. The Environment Protection Authority botched the charge, allowing Du Pont the defence— [Time expired.]