An EPA branded station wagon drives north along a congested Geelong Road, towards a large industrial estate.
The EPA has received reports from Brooklyn residents, suspecting one of the industrial plants of polluting, an unfortunate but common occurrence.
“The noise doesn’t worry us but the dust and smells do”, Brooklyn resident Jan Cole says.
For over four years, the Brooklyn Industrial Precinct has been one of the EPA’s biggest environmental concerns.
The precinct, located in Melbourne’s west, is home to over 60 industries.
Many of the precinct’s industries produce odour and dust as part of their operation.
The issue of pollution is synonymous with the western suburb of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is one of the dustiest suburbs in Melbourne and currently has the worst air quality in the state.
In Brooklyn, since monitoring commended in 2009, there have been 130 days where the air quality has not only failed to meet the standards of the EPA but has exceeded global standards.
This year, January and February have been the worst two months for dust pollution in the area, with 13 days exceeding the EPA’s air quality objectives.
The environmental organisation has set up a dust particle monitoring station in the area, which provides hourly updates on dust pollution levels.
The monitoring station measures airborne dust particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter, one-tenth the diameter of a human hair.
The number of particles is compared to the State and National air quality goals, designed to protect human health and wellbeing.
The EPA publishes air-monitoring reports to the Brooklyn Community, local council and industry precinct owners.
According to the EPA, Brooklyn’s air quality is currently fluctuating between the good and very good level, despite 13 bad days in January and February.
Leigh Bryant, the EPA Southern Metro Manager of the Dandenong Region, says this was not remotely the case several years ago.
“Before our intervention, the problem of air pollution was far greater than it is now.”
Nonetheless, the issue of pollution still plagues local residents who continue to complain to the EPA.
Local residents say that industrial pollution has affected the liveability of the Brooklyn area.
“The whole time we have lived in the area, there has always been an issue with dust”, Brooklyn resident Jan Cole says.
Jan and her husband Bill have lived in Brooklyn for close to six years.
When the couple moved to Brooklyn, they were shocked by the environmental state of the area.
“When we first came here, the conditions were disgusting, disgraceful really. We came from the country and had no idea about the problems that are here”, Jan Cole says.
Bill and Jan Cole believe that the issues concerning the Brooklyn Industrial precinct can’t be fixed overnight, but say that industries aren’t following the correct protocol directed by the EPA.
“Industry workers that are coming in now must fulfill the current rules. Most of them do not and they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law”, Bill Cole says.
“Industries shouldn’t be able to get away with their polluting practices. They should have to abide by the rules. To me it’s not on, it’s ridiculous”, Jan Cole says.
Bill and Jan Cole regularly attend meetings held by the Brooklyn Community Representative Group.
The Brooklyn Community Representative Group aims to provide a forum for members of the community, industry and local and state government, to discuss issues relating to air quality.
The Chair of the group, Jen Lilburn, says that Brooklyn residents are given the opportunity to voice their grievances to the relevant authorities.
“Residents can raise their issues with industry and government and get a response. The forum is about providing opportunities for communication.”
According to Lilburn, the most common complaints from residents relate to dust.
“They mostly relate to dust. Concerns associated with odour are significantly less than in previous years.”
Jen Lilburn’s view, corresponds with the EPA’s finding that odour reports are at their lowest since 2002.
At this month’s Brooklyn Community Representative Group meeting, the EPA presented an update on their dust, odour and noise program.
An extensive survey found that almost half of Brooklyn residents, living less than 500 metres away from a known pollution source, felt that odour in the area had improved over the last 12 months.
Despite the environmental contamination the precinct has caused and the opposition from local residents, others believe that the site is beneficial to the Brooklyn area.
The Brooklyn Industrial Precinct forms a crucial part of the Western Industrial Node, which is important to the economy of Metropolitan Melbourne.
The precinct is only 12 kilometres away from the CBD, which also makes the area attractive to industry owners.
Andrea Mason is the Executive Officer of the Brooklyn Industrial Precinct.
Mason believes that the precinct is not only important to businesses but it is also valuable to the community.
“The precinct provides a lot of employment to the western suburbs of Melbourne (specifically Brooklyn)” Andrea Mason says.
Mason recognizes the industrial environmental issue but says that industry practices have significantly improved.
“Once certain environmental issues are addressed, a new discovery is made.”
“(However) the practices of industries are improving.”
Australian Tallow Producers is one of many businesses that operate within the Brooklyn Industrial precinct.
The family-owned business has been in existence for 30 years and relocated to Brooklyn in 2002.
Since its move to the Brooklyn area, Australian Tallow’s business practices have been frequently scrutinised.
In 2011, the EPA prosecuted Australian Tallow for emitting an offensive odour, which was described as “worse than rotting meat.”
The EPA issued the business with an abatement notice, requiring “substantial modification to the plant and processes at the premises.”
Despite the EPA’s action, local residents identified Australian Tallow as the source of a “vomit-inducing reek” last year.
In response to the odour emitted from the plant, the EPA forced Australian Tallow to reduce their production by 30%, install a bio-filter and change their building to ensure the capture of odour, or else the business would lose its licence to operate.
Cathy Palmer, the Director of Australian Tallow, believes that the EPA has inappropriately targeted her business.
“Our family business has been the scapegoat for the EPA for a number of years, primarily due to our company never defending itself.”
Palmer says that her business has complied with the EPA’s demands and has fulfilled its licence conditions.
“We have listened to the EPA and have spent considerable funds improving our environmental management. Through collaboration and commitment, the EPA now informs us directly of odour complaints, enabling us to deal with them immediately.”
Despite recent setbacks, Palmer believes that her business will now be more environment friendly and efficient than ever before.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to the environment, we have just completed a bio filter upgrade. This will further protect our environment from airborne pollutants with absolutely no chemicals required in the filtration process.”
However, during the last financial year, Australian Tallow did not submit their annual performance statement on time nor did they comply with the pollution discharge conditions, stipulated in their licence.
Earlier this week, the business faced the Sunshine Magistrates Court, where they defended themselves against a series of indictable offences.
Australian Tallow is not the only industry in the precinct that is under surveillance and scrutiny from the EPA.
At the moment, the EPA is investigating three other industrial sites for their polluting practices, which are likely to result in enforcement action being taken.
The current focus of the EPA is to implement the Brooklyn Evolution Plan, an award winning strategy developed by the Brimbank City Council.
The Brooklyn Evolution Plan sets out a long-term vision for the precinct, which aims to address environmental issues including land contamination, storm water quality and environmental degradation.
Director of City Development for Brimbank Council, Stuart Menzies, says that the plan wouldn’t have been possible without the EPA’s involvement.
“The work of the EPA has been critical to addressing the environmental problems in Brooklyn and could not have been achieved otherwise.”
In spite of the proposed plan, existing environmental conditions and the quality of infrastructure, present challenges to the future development and sustainability of the area.
“Many existing operators either voluntarily or on the requirement of the EPA have invested in environmental management improvements such as dust suppression equipment, odour filtration systems, ceasing operations in certain climatic conditions”, Stuart Menzies says.
“Each of these individual efforts is now making a collective improvement across the Brooklyn Industrial Precinct.”
The EPA has made significant progress in addressing environmental issues concerning the Brooklyn Industrial Precinct.
In a three-year monitoring report, published in October of last year, there was a significant improvement in Brooklyn’s air quality, which corresponded with the refined management of dust implemented by the EPA.
Approximately half of Brooklyn residents also felt that the activities of the EPA had helped improve the local environment.
Nevertheless, the Brooklyn Industrial Precinct remains environmentally hazardous.
According to the air monitoring report, the level of air pollution in the Brooklyn area was higher than at any of the EPA’s monitoring stations in residential Melbourne.
The EPA’s Leigh Bryant says Brooklyn’s air quality remains a top priority despite their intervention.
“Air pollution in Brooklyn is an ongoing issue, one we haven’t fixed, hence the amount of work involved.”
“There is a combination of factors that are contributing towards the high pollution levels in Brooklyn, including dust and diesel trucks, which add matter to the atmosphere. The quality of the air can also be weather dependent.”
The EPA has issued Pollution Abatement notices to industries operating within the Brooklyn Industrial precinct, which require them to have plans put in place to minimise the amount of dust produced from their onsite activities.
“We intend to push through these notices, to inform businesses of their environmental impact, with the hope of minimising their effect on the local community. Some industries are getting the message and are doing everything they are required to do”, Leigh Bryant says.
Currently, the EPA is tracking 30 Pollution Abatement Notices, through ongoing inspections of industrial sites.
However, the EPA suspects this will never occur.
“It is not as simple as saying stop production and close, that can’t happen. Businesses operating within the precinct can’t leave, due to inadequate infrastructure that currently exists in the area”, Bryant says.
The EPA remains determined to make Brooklyn significantly more liveable and won’t cease their local activities, until the environmental issues concerning the precinct are resolved.
“We plan to fix the environmental issues associated with the precinct. We have identified where the source of the issue is coming from and have leveraged as best as we can with the other parties, who need to be involved in remedying the issue”, Bryant says.
“However, these issues are quite complex. There are a number of players across numerous agencies and levels of government that are involved.”