DANGEROUS levels of toxic firefighting foam and cancer-causing chemicals have been found in groundwater below the heavily polluted former Truegain waste oil refinery site at Rutherford.
It's unknown how far the shifting plume has spread because no testing has been done.
A Newcastle Herald investigation can reveal that the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) made a "recommendation" to the land owner that a detailed environmental site assessment, including further testing, was needed to determine the impact of the contamination and how it could be contained.
But six months after it was discovered, no further testing has been carried out at the troubled site that is located near a new residential estate and no penalty has been issued.
The EPA has also refused to make February's test results public because the consultant's report was commissioned by the land owner.
It is the latest in a string of controversies to hit the environmental watchdog over its handling of the unfolding environmental scandal.
An EPA spokesman confirmed that an initial investigation in February by consultant WSP, using six groundwater wells at the Kyle St site, revealed per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances [PFAS] - the chemicals at the heart of the Williamtown environmental scandal - in five wells.
High levels of the toxic firefighting foam chemicals, which do not break down in the environment, were found in two wells.
The wells range in depth from one metre below the ground to 13 metres.
PFAS chemicals are extremely mobile and have been linked to a host of serious illnesses in the United States.
University of Newcastle Priority Centre for Geotechnical Science and Engineering's Dr Brett Turner said once PFAS chemicals made their way into groundwater it was "far more" problematic to treat.
"It pretty much travels around quite readily once it's in the groundwater," Dr Turner said. "It's very mobile in that environment."
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PACs), emitted from motor vehicles and other combustion sources, were found in one well. PACs are known to cause cancers in humans and laboratory animals.
A cocktail of zinc, copper and nickel at elevated levels were found in five wells and total recoverable hydrocarbons (TRH) in two wells.
The EPA spokesman said further investigation was needed to determine the impact and extent of the contamination.
Pushed on whether the watchdog or the landowner had carried out any testing at the site since February, the spokesman confirmed nothing had been done.
Truegain's atrocious environmental record, including dumping millions of litres of oil and liquid waste into surrounding waterways and properties dating back to the 1990s, was uncovered last year.
More than 40 former employees spoke out about what they witnessed while working for the company, also known as Australian Waste Oil Refineries, with several detailing information they supplied to authorities that was not acted on.
The workers detailed how vast quantities of a chemical cocktail were dumped on the ground or pumped into creeks that run to the Hunter River in an effort to save money on treatment chemicals.
The EPA was implicated in the scandal after it was revealed in December that there was a major flooding event in March 2018, while the EPA had control of the site, that saw PFAS chemicals spill into nearby creeks.
This was despite the watchdog's own officers warning of a potential spill for months before it happened.
Residents who live along the creeks were not told of the spill until months after it happened.
An EPA warning to residents not to eat eggs, drink milk or consume meat from animals that have had access to Fishery or Wallis creeks remains in place after PFAS chemicals, as high as 22 times the recommended drinking water guideline, were found in Stony Creek that runs behind the refinery.
Dr Turner, who is investigating the use of hemp seed proteins to treat PFAS contaminated water and soil, said the chemicals would have made it to the Hunter River.
Resident Ramona Cocco is leading a residents' push to have the pollution cleaned up and said it was "typical" that the community was left in the dark.
Mrs Cocco said residents remained "completely unaware" that aquifers had been polluted and that the contamination would migrate.
"We want this mess fixed, it's extremely close to residential areas and we have a right to know what is going on," she said.
"We need to know how serious this is and where it has spread. Once again we are relying on the media to inform us months after authorities find out."
Low levels of PFAS, TRH, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead and nickel have been found in soil at the site.
A contractor employed by the landowner has treated more than 1.8 million litres of PFAS-contaminated water from onsite tanks at the refinery, with another two million litres to go.
Mrs Cocco called for an "independent audit" of the area that was not paid for by the landowner and former Truegain director, Bob Pullinger.
It was reported in January, that Mr Pullinger has started a new business, Clean Tech Partnerships, with former Labor party heavyweights Morris Iemma and Craig Wallace.
Mr Iemma said the new business had no link to Truegain and its interests were in renewables and mobile water treatment.
The Newcastle Herald attempted to contact Mr Pullinger.
- Do you know more? Donna.firstname.lastname@example.org