Dangerous goods dispute explodes

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A political war-of-words has erupted over claims of a “hot spot” of illegally stored dangerous goods around Dandenong.

State opposition workplace safety spokesperson Nick Wakeling made the claim – seizing on comments at a Parliamentary inquiry on 13 May.

“This latest revelation shows that the health and wellbeing of families in Melbourne’s south-east is being placed at risk due to the inaction of the Andrews Labor Government,” Mr Wakeling said.

“All Victorians should be concerned that when it comes to dangerous waste storage we know that tens of millions of litres of flammable material is being stored illegally and that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

A Government spokesperson said the Opposition “blatantly put words in WorkSafe Victoria’s mouth”.

“And in the process implied local businesses who do the right thing and store dangerous goods correctly are actually breaking the law.

“The management of dangerous chemicals is taken extremely seriously and facilities in Dandenong are subject to the same strict regulations as other sites across the state.”

The Government was reviewing laws with a view of ensuring “tough penalties” on offenders, the spokesperson said.

WorkSafe told Star News that illegal flammable stockpiles such as those uncovered in Melbourne’s north this year have not been found in Dandenong.

It had conducted 253 dangerous goods-related inspections in Greater Dandenong, Casey and Frankston council areas since 1 July. Fifty-seven compliance notices were issued in the region.

At the Parliament hearing, WorkSafe stated there were about 3000 sites of “notifiable dangerous goods” in Victoria, most prevalently in Melbourne’s north, west and Dandenong.

WorkSafe business operations chief Marnie Williams said the authority worked with fire agencies and the Environment Protection Authority to do 2000 inspections on possible illegally stored dangerous goods between July 2018-March 2019.

It had issued 497 notices as a result.

“It is just important to delineate for the committee that these are just dangerous goods sites, not necessarily dangerous goods waste sites; it will be a mix of both,” Ms Williams said.

WorkSafe’s hazardous industries head Michael Coffey added that most of the focus was currently on the northern suburbs.

Public concern have risen with a spate of noxious, intense fires linked to toxic chemical dumps in Melbourne’s north and west.

In April, WorkSafe had seized control of four warehouses illegally stockpiled with up to 11 million toxic flammable chemicals in Craigeburn and Campbellfield.

The stores were linked to the operator of a Campbellfield factory, where a toxic fire burned for days and had injured a worker.

Another massive illicit chemical dump was found in a warehouse in Epping in January.

In the past five years, WorkSafe has been notified of 468 dangerous goods sites, including petrol servos and retail outlets, in Greater Dandenong, Casey and Frankston.

This doesn’t include licensed major hazards facilities, which are subject to strict regulatory oversight.

“WorkSafe conducts inspections to ensure dangerous goods such as flammable chemicals are being correctly stored and handled across Victoria, including in the Dandenong area,” a spokesperson told Star News.

“Anyone who fails to notify WorkSafe that they are storing dangerous goods can face fines and potentially jail.”

Any illegally stored dangerous goods can be reported to the Worksafe Advisory Line on 1800 136 089.

 

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