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Labor calls for inquiry into Environment Protection Authority performance

Date

Natalie O'Brien

Critical of the EPA: Labor's Luke Foley.

Critical of the EPA: Labor's Luke Foley. Photo: Dean Osland

The state opposition is seeking a parliamentary inquiry into the culture and performance of the Environment Protection Authority after controversies including botched prosecutions, accusations of cover-ups, mismanagement and a referral to the corruption watchdog.

Labor's environment spokesman, Luke Foley, said under its current leadership the EPA seemed more focused on protecting polluting industries than looking after the community and human health.

In the past year, Mr Foley said, the EPA had sat on information that revealed the presence of toxic substances in the soil around the Orica chemical site at Botany, covered up crucial facts concerning coal-dust pollution in the Hunter Valley rail corridor, which has now been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and issued exploration company Santos with a ''pathetic $1500 fine for the contamination of a water aquifer with uranium at levels 20 times higher than safe drinking water guidelines''.

Green's Mehreen Faruqi.

Green's Mehreen Faruqi. Photo: Ben Rushton

He said the EPA had also spent more than $500,000 on a botched prosecution over the destruction of vegetation in the western suburb of Girraween.

"A parliamentary inquiry should investigate the culture and performance at the highest levels of the EPA,'' Mr Foley said .

Labor MP Ron Hoenig has already introduced a private member's bill to strip the EPA of prosecution powers, saying it was ''incompetent'' and did not have the guts to go after big polluters.

Mr Hoenig, a mayor of Botany for more than 30 years, is a long-time critic of the EPA, which he says has consistently failed to protect the public from pollution, particularly over groundwater and mercury contamination around Botany.

The call for an inquiry comes after revelations by Fairfax Media on Sunday that the EPA had meddled in an independent review ordered into its performance over the handling of controversial chemical contamination issues relating to the Orica site at Botany.

The review was to allay residents' concerns over its handling of the issues, but the revelations about the EPA's input into the report has reignited the controversy in the community.

Fairfax Media has uncovered an expert opinion on contamination in the same area which warned that the EPA had failed to test for some chemicals.

Documents obtained under freedom of information rules show that after toxic substances were found in the soil at Hillsdale near a children's playground, Botany Council immediately asked JBS&G to do urgent 24-hour testing of soil on the council's land at the Grace Campbell Reserve.

The JBS&G consultant told the council it had reviewed the EPA's analysis of the soils and warned that there were ''several other chlorinated compounds that are associated with the nearby historical industrial uses that have not been included in the EPA analysis''.

The expert warned the council should do comprehensive testing because ''there are educated members of the local community groups whom are aware of these substances and would anticipate their inclusion in the soils assessment.''

Greens MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi told Fairfax Media ''it appears that the community is fast losing faith in the credibility of the EPA having previously raised concerns about the EPA's role in monitoring coal dust in the Hunter and regulating mercury and other dangerous chemicals at Botany".

"It is essential that NSW has a strong, independent and rigorous agency dedicated to the protection of the environment.''

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