EPA forum on ’putrid’ stench

Dom Bocarri at the fixed air-monitoring station in Greaves Reserve - which he says is in the wrong location to alert concerned residents. 280666_06 Picture: ROB CAREW

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Questions are set to be asked by the public over the mysterious putrid stench that wafts from the state’s most toxic industry zone in Dandenong South.

Next week, Environment Protection Authority Victoria is leading a public forum on the ‘Keysborough Odour project’.

It is said to provide an update on its compliance regime, air monitoring results and health impacts.

Schools and residents in Keysborough and Dandenong South have long made a chorus of complaints about foul air emissions from the industry-2 zone (IZ2).

Since 2020, the EPA and Greater Dandenong Council have investigated – with pollution notices issued to several unnamed businesses this year.

Keysborough resident Dom Bocarri urged the public to “make a show” at the information session.

“They’ve had these concerns for many, many years and nothing has been really publicly addressed.

“There’s not enough information about what’s in people’s faces.

“We need to know what’s in the air that we can smell and whether it’s harmful to humans.”

Bocarri says he smells the stench several times a month.

“It smells terrible. It can vary, it’s like something getting burnt off in your backyard.”

Visiting the IZ2 zone in Dandenong South one day, he had to run inside because the stink was so “strong” and “disgusting”.

He wants real-time air monitoring that’s closer to the IZ2, which can alert residents if and when there’s a serious issue.

The fixed air-monitoring station two kilometres to the north in Greaves Reserve, Dandenong is too far away, he says.

Mobile detection devices mounted on EPA cars are also too infrequent, he says.

Since the IZ2 zone was established in 1976, it has been steadily encroached by light industry, housing estates, sports fields and schools in Keysborough and Dandenong South.

Some homes are within the zone’s supposed 1.5-kilometre buffer zone.

However, the foul odours have been reported as far away as Chelsea – well beyond the buffer zone, Bocarri says.

Councillor Jim Memeti has proposed moving the industry-2 zone further afield. The idea has been consistently rebuffed by the State Government.

He and the Greater Dandenong Council have also pushed for the closure of Victoria’s only toxic waste dump in Taylors Road, Lyndhurst. However, the State Government has extended its license beyond its pledged closure date of 2020.

Cr Memeti said there was also a “flawed“ State Government human health study after a spate of birth deformities in Dandenong South more than a decade ago.

Now, autism and respiratory problems are frequently reported by residents, with industries particularly emitting large amounts of smoke at night, Cr Memeti says.

“They don’t do it in the day. What are they burning? When you speak to the EPA they say there’s nothing to be concerned about.

“People in our community don’t feel safe. I want to make sure the community comes down and asks questions to the EPA and the council to work out those concerns.”

Cr Rhonda Garad is heartened by the EPA’s improved community-focus under regional manager Viranga Abeywickrema.

“I urge people to come along (to the forum) to find out what they’re doing.

“I’ve been very critical of the EPA in the past. Now they’re starting to come on board.”

Cr Garad also wants a more “robust” real-time air-monitoring regime.

“We need data on what is in the air. We don’t know the health risks or what the impacts of those odours are – even though we know where they’re coming from.”

High particulate-matter (PM) readings were of most concern, she says.

“What also concerns me is there are a lot of people who work in the IZ2.”

The public forum will be led by EPA senior managers, odour and health staff and compliance and enforcement officers.

Greater Dandenong Council officers and councillors will also be there.

The information session is at Springer Leisure Centre, Cheltenham Road, Keysborough on 16 December, 1pm-3pm.