NSW Environment Minister Matthew Kean wants "the book thrown at anyone who has done the wrong thing" and will visit the heavily-polluted Truegain waste-oil refinery site in coming days.
Minister Kean was responding to a Newcastle Herald report from the weekend, part of a Your Right to Know Campaign, that revealed the abandoned site could cost taxpayers millions to clean up as the owner looks set to cut his losses and walk away.
The landowner and former Truegain director, Bob Pullinger, wants to side-step a mass clean-up of the Rutherford industrial site claiming he has run out of money.
Minister Kean said the first priority was the community's health.
"I expect that the people who left this site contaminated clean it up and the EPA use every legal mechanism available to it compel them to do so, if it is not done voluntarily," he said.
"I am advised that the EPA is actively investigating the matter, including obtaining evidence with a view to taking action against those responsible...I intend to inspect the site myself in coming days."
The NSW Opposition launched a scathing attack on the EPA on Tuesday for "not doing its job" in managing the Maitland site that has left water from three creeks indefinitely off limits and a shifting plume of groundwater contaminated with dangerous levels of toxic-firefighting foam and cancer-causing chemicals.
EPA staff have repeatedly identified the threat of chemical leaks into nearby properties and waterways from the Kyle St property, but no action has been taken.
Shadow environment spokeswoman Kate Washington described the regulator's inaction as "appalling".
"The EPA needs to protect the community and the environment, that's its job and it is failing to do that job," she said.
"They are letting polluters off the hook and leaving communities to pay the price."
Ms Washington said she remembered being briefed by the EPA when the contamination at the refinery was uncovered several years ago and staff describing the scene they found as "disturbing".
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 toxic firefighting chemicals chemicals, as high as 22 times the recommended drinking water guideline, were found in Stony Creek.
"It's a ticking time bomb and it needs to be cleaned up for the sake of the community and the environment," she said.
"The EPA has to make sure it doesn't cause further pollution and harm the community around it. It can't be left to get worse...it's awful."
The site, renowned for flooding in heavy rain, is contaminated with high levels of PFAS chemicals - at the heart of the Williamtown red zone environmental scandal - heavy metals and dangerous hydrocarbons.
Minister Kean said the EPA had arranged for the surface water collection system to be pumped out to maintain collection capacity in the event of rainfall to mitigate the risk of further contamination.
More than 40 former workers told how the company would routinely use the property and surrounding waterways as a dumping ground for waste collected from industrial yards, airports, service stations, mines and car washes.
Ms Washington plans to raise the issue in parliament this week, calling for immediate action to get the site remediated.
"The EPA knew for a very long time it was operating improperly," Ms Washington said.
"It was causing pollution to the surrounding environment, but it allowed the company to continue operating.
- This is part of Your Right to Know: A Newcastle Herald series - a newsroom-wide investigation built on freedom of information applications. If you have an idea for an investigation, email email@example.com
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here
IN THE NEWS:
- Man charged in Hunter as police bust alleged international drug ring
- Cessnock District Hopsital extends testing clinic for second time
- Milton Orkopoulos to remain behind bars amid fresh child abuse charges
- JobKeeper jobs won't all be kept: minister
- Former Islington corner shop a muched loved creative space
- Herman Ese'ese keen for quick shot at redemption against Broncos
- Toohey's News, The Podcast Episode 14: Ashley Gordon