The NSW Environment Protection Authority has fined Australian Health & Nutrition Association (Sanitarium) $15,000 for discharging wastewater into a local waterway. The fine is the largest amount it can issue under its legislation.
The spill occurred in February, when Sanitarium was transferring wastewater to a sewer line via a temporary piping set-up. The pipework dislodged from the sewer manhole and the dirty water ran into the waterway.
EPA director Regulatory Operations Adam Gilligan said Sanitarium allegedly did not have adequate checks in place and did not notice the dislodged pipework for at least three hours.
A spokesperson for Sanitarium told Food & Drink Business the company reported the incident on 2 February 2021, when the wastewater spilled into the unnamed creek behind its facility.
“On identifying the spillage, staff took swift action to stem the flow of the wastewater and implement remedial measures. Unfortunately, and sadly, the discharged waste reached the unnamed creek.
“A full report including water quality analysis samples, results and photos were provided to the EPA as a full disclosure and self-reporting of the incident,” the company said.
Gilligan said the large quantity of wastewater flowed into a tributary of Ourimbah Creek, which flows into Tuggerah Lake.
“When we analysed the discharged wastewater we found it was highly alkaline, which can damage sensitive aquatic environments,” Gilligan said.
Aquatic life can be affected when pH levels rise too high or change rapidly, he added.
The EPA’s water quality analysis revealed a clear impact from the discharge in the downstream sampling location when compared with the upstream sampling results, the agency said.
Sanitarium’s Pollution Incident Response Management Plan for the Berkeley Vale manufacturing plant states the EPA must be notified immediately when there is a pollution incident.
“We take seriously this type of incident and the impact it could have on our environment. We have continued to work with the EPA as they have investigated the issue. We have taken action to address our systems and processes to ensure this kind of event will not reoccur,” Sanitarium’s spokesperson said.
They added that on issuing the fine the EPA acknowledged no prior related breaches and its response and self-reporting of the incident.