New soil disposal rules for tunnel project
By David Schout
New rules on how toxic soil is handled have been released by the state government, in a move that could help break an impasse on the protracted West Gate Tunnel project.
The regulations, effective from July 1, aimed to create new standards for waste disposal companies on how to manage potentially dangerous soil.
The new code allows landfill operators to handle contaminated soil provided they have an “environmental management plan” that has been approved by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).
Waste from the project will be dumped in a “containment system” that, according to reports, now crucially won’t attract a levy.
For months, construction on the $6.7 billion project that links the West Gate Freeway in Yarraville and CityLink in Docklands has been at an impasse due to the uncertainty on how to dispose of contaminated soil from tunnel-boring work.
The state government, operator Transurban and the project’s builders have disputed who is responsible for managing the problem.
Tunneling for the new toll road, billed as an alternative to the city’s congested West Gate Bridge, was due to start around October last year, but has been held up by the deadlock.
How and when the Andrews government’s flagship road project proceeds are, however, still unknown as the government, Transurban and the joint venture responsible for building the project (CPB Contractors and John Holland) face off in the Supreme Court over costs and delays relating to the disposal of PFAS-contaminated soil.
PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, according to a Health Department factsheet are a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used since the 1950s in a range of common household products.
They are considered useful because they are heat, water and oil resistant and have been used products such as nonstick cookware, stain protection applications and food packaging.
While evidence is not conclusive, at higher levels it is considered potentially carcinogenic.
PFAS is also used in firefighting foams, which was dispersed on a toxic blaze at Coode Island, just west of Docklands, in 1991.
The fire-fighting foam used during the blaze then soaked into soil where the tunnel project, almost 30 years later, will be built.
A report by The Age in March revealed that the results of borehole tests near the site of the 1991 blaze were hundreds of times worse than a threshold set by the EPA.
In May the Andrews Government admitted for the first time that its troubled toll road would not be finished by 2022, with completion now set for 2023 •