Wannon Water releases report into nurdle spill

01 March 2018

Wannon Water has released a report into the illegal dumping of nurdles into the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant last November.

The report was prepared for the Environment Protection Authority which issued Wannon Water with a clean-up notice after some of the tiny plastic pellets spilled through the plant’s ocean outfall and washed up on beaches from Warrnambool to Port Fairy. It is possibly the first record of a nurdle spill from a sewage treatment plant in Australia.

The incident sparked a multi-agency Class 2 State Emergency and a large community campaign, with volunteers and Wannon Water crews collecting nurdles and other rubbish from beaches as well as monitoring the extent of the spill.

The EPA is satisfied that Wannon Water has met all the requirements of the clean-up notice and the notice has been revoked.

Wannon Water’s report details:

  • An unknown volume of nurdles was dumped into the plant’s sludge acceptance point on or around 16 November 2017.
  • Reliable estimates of the number of nurdles that have been cleaned up based on all the collections provided to Deakin University and Wannon Water. These vary from some of the earlier estimates that Wannon Water has published, particularly as a result of separating and washing the nurdles that were cleaned out of the treatment plant.
  • Around 155 litres of nurdles have been cleaned up over the past three months.
  • This includes 24.6 litres (570,000 nurdles) from 30 kilometres of beaches, with half collected by the community and half by Wannon Water.
  • The remaining 130 litres (nearly three million nurdles) were captured in the sewage treatment plant and prevented from entering the ocean.
  • Analysis undertaken by two independent expert plastic laboratories showed all the nurdles were made of polypropylene.
  • A total of 23 sites were identified as a potential source of the contamination and 20 field inspections have been completed. Three sites were ruled out based on risk and the likelihood of nurdles being present. The source of the nurdles remains unknown.
  • The investigation is ongoing and Wannon Water is considering the possibility that the original source may never be found.
  • Wannon Water has spent $290,000 on its response to the incident.

Wannon Water Managing Director Andrew Jeffers said the plant meets all regulatory standards and there was no malfunction at the time of the nurdle spill.

“This incident related to an unauthorised dumping of plastic pellets that we have not previously encountered,” Mr Jeffers said. “As a result, we have installed additional screens at the plant with the aim of improving environmental protections.

“We are also considering other short-term improvements at the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant prior to a major upgrade in 2021 which will include a new screening facility.

“Wannon Water is committed to ongoing surveying, monitoring and cleaning up of beaches throughout 2018 in response to weather and tidal changes. We also plan to revisit areas that are currently occupied by Hooded Plovers when the breeding season has finished and conduct clean-ups where practicable,” Mr Jeffers said.

“The clean-up on beaches at Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Killarney to date has involved a concerted and sustained effort by the community, Wannon Water and other agency staff. We would particularly like to acknowledge the very significant contribution by community volunteers and thank them for their efforts.”

Mr Jeffers said Wannon Water is committed to the environment and recognises that its actions can influence current and future generations.

“This year we’ll be rolling out an awareness campaign urging consumers to take a closer look at their wastewater habits. We want people to think about what they are flushing down the toilet or drain and the potential impact it can have on the environment.

“We are funding the development of a community-led Cleaner Beaches Program which aims to reduce the overall level of plastic pollution on our beaches.

“The Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network has also planned a month-long campaign, sponsored by Wannon Water, to educate Warrnambool and Port Fairy students about the impact of plastic pollution on the marine environment.”