Residents ‘hell’ to continue

Sunshine Landfill . Photo by Damjan Janevski. 231116_01

Tara Murray

Kealba and surrounding residents say they are gutted by the news they might have to live with a “rotten rubbish smell” for another 12 months.

Kealba Landfill operator Barro Group last week said it was unlikely to extinguish underground fires, already burning at the landfill for more than 18 months, before May next year.

But the Environment Protection Authority said it is “set to refuse Barro Group’s requests for an extension”.

EPA had given the company a deadline of July 31, 2021, for the works to be complete.

Residents have long voiced concerns about the air quality and health risks caused by the fires.

They say the latest setback has ‘devastated’ them.

Anna Jez, who lives near the landfill, said residents want the EPA to revoke Barro’s license.

“We cannot believe the EPA can’t hold this company to responsibility,” she said.

“I don’t even know what to believe … and whether it will even finish next year. I’m lost for words.

“We’re just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best … We’re all in a state of shock.”

Ms Jez said residents had held concerns about the landfill even before it was approved in 2010, and had taken the proposal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

She said those concerns have since proved to be well founded.

Marian Pham said residents had been hoping for reassurances from the EPA, but had received nothing.

She said while the immediate focus is on extinguishing the fires, she’s concerned with what will happen long term.

“There’s no guarantee that it won’t happen again,” she said.

“I don’t know what more we can do. We’ve contacted every politician. The EPA is not helping and Brimbank council has been no help.”

Ms Pham said her health issues were her biggest concern – both her and her son have been diagnosed with sudden onset asthma, which neither have suffered before.

She said the EPA continues to deny the possibility that it might be caused by the fires.

“This has been brushed aside until recently, when we’ve been hounding them at the weekly online meetings.

“We’re tired of hearing Bandaid reactive responses.”

Barro’s Steve Murphy said the company had lodged the amended timeframe with the EPA and was waiting for a response.

He said that hotspots two, three and four at the landfill would likely be completed by November, while the proposed deadline for hot spot one is May next year.

“As I said at the meeting,… dates aren’t just made up,” he said. “We know it’s not what the residents want to hear.

“It’s based on data and taken into account the expansion we have found in the hotspots.

“We still have to move at least 60,000 cubic metres of material. We have so far moved 65,500 cubic metres of material.”

An EPA spokesperson told Star Weekly that based on the current information provided by Barro, EPA believes the current due dates should stand.

“The Environment Protection Authority is set to refuse Barro Group’s requests for an extension to complete the remediation works at the Kealba landfill.,” the spokesperson said.

“Unless independent evidence is brought to the EPA on why remediation of the site needs to go beyond July 31, EPA expects the Barro Group to complete the remediation of the Kealba landfill site as quickly and safely as possible and to the deadlines set down in the current notice.

“If Barro Group cannot meet its statutory responsibilities as set out in the clean up notice, EPA will look to take action in line with our compliance and enforcement policies which set out sanctions ranging from fines through to licence suspension and even cancellation.”