Nurdles response

Wannon Water continues to investigate the source of the nurdles illegally dumped in the Warrnambool sewerage system, and to work as part of a multi-agency response to support the community clean-up efforts. (You can read more about this below.)

Community groups and individuals wanting to help with the clean up are advised to read the following information if they plan to head out on the beaches.

Update 15 December 2017

Multiple clean-up crews have been out early today at East Beach and Shelly Beach. Monitoring crews continued mapping nurdle concentrations at Logan’s Beach from the river heading east to Allansford.

Today's Community Information Update has further information.

Update 14 December 2017

Clean-up crews from Wannon Water will be cleaning up nurdles from beaches today. Crews will be working at Shelly Beach and Second Bay in Warrnambool and also along East Beach in Port Fairy.

Today's Community Information Update has further information.

Update 13 December 2017

Due to extreme weather conditions, the Incident Management Team is not sending out any clean-up or monitoring crews today.

Clean-up crews will commence again from tomorrow, with details of beach locations to be advised.

Today's Community Information Update has further information.

Update 12 December 2017

Clean-up crews from Wannon Water will be cleaning up nurdles from beaches today from 1pm to 3pm. Our crews will be working on a concentration of nurdles at East Beach, Port Fairy, and at Shelly Beach/Second Bay, Warrnambool.

Two survey teams will continue mapping the coastline, with a focus on Main Beach, Warrnambool, from the Lady Bay heading east and Levy’s Beach, Warrnambool, heading west.

Tests have shown the mechanical beach sweeper has limitations in wet sand. We are looking at trailing it again today in drier sand.

Further information is available in today’s Community Information Update.

Update 11 December 2017

Three clean-up crews from Wannon Water will be cleaning up nurdles from beaches today from 1pm to 3pm. Two of the crews will be working on a concentration of nurdles at East Beach, Port Fairy, and the third crew will be at Logans Beach, Warrnambool.

Two survey teams will continue mapping the coastline, with a focus on Logans Beach heading east, and enhanced monitoring at East Beach from Connolly Street heading east.

Tests have shown the mechanical beach sweeper has limitations in wet sand. We are looking at further modifications and will be trialling it again when the weather improves.

Further information is available in today’s Community Information Update.

Update 10 December 2017

Thank you to all those people who attended community beach clean-ups yesterday.

Two more clean-ups are scheduled today at Shelly Beach in Warrnambool and at East Beach in Port Fairy, both from 1pm to 3pm. Equipment including sieves and buckets, water, fruit and sunscreen will be available.

Members of the public who notice large numbers of nurdles on particular beaches, are being urged to report them by emailing the IMT at nurdleresponse@wannonwater.com.au.

We can then direct our survey and clean-up crews to those particular areas.

Further information is available in today's Community Information Update.

Update 9 December 2017

Community beach clean-ups have been organised from 1 to 3pm today and tomorrow.

Members of the public who would like to support the clean-up efforts are being encouraged to sign up at staging points at Shelly Beach in Warrnambool (access via Thunder Point carpark) and at East Beach in Port Fairy.

Equipment including sieves and buckets, water, fruit and sunscreen will be available.

Three Wannon Water crews will also be working at Shelly Beach, East Beach and Killarney Beach during the weekend.

Two mapping teams will also be continuing their work surveying the coastline, including the area from the Yambuk river mouth to The Crags.

See the latest Community Information Update for more details.

Update 8 December 2017

Today the IMT will once again be targeting district beaches with the highest density of nurdles. These include:

  • East Beach, Port Fairy
  • Killarney Beach and The Basin
  • Shelly Beach/Second Bay, Warrnambool

Wannon Water staff will be leading crews to collect nurdles at these locations today from 1:00pm-3:00pm.

See the latest Community Information Update for more details.

The DELWP/Wannon Water emergency management will once again deploy field crews today to survey the occurrence of nurdles at beaches along the coastline, which helps direct the clean-up effort towards the most heavily affected areas.

The IMT coordinating the response to the nurdle contamination will be relocating back to Wannon Water this afternoon. The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) will remain the control agency.

Update 7 December 2017

Today the IMT will once again be targeting district beaches with the highest density of nurdles. These include:

  • East Beach, from Connolly St heading east, Port Fairy (two crews)
  • Shelly Beach/Second Bay, Warrnambool (one crew)

Wannon Water staff will be leading crews to collect nurdles at these locations today from 1:00pm-3:00pm.

See the latest Community Information Update for more details.

The DELWP/Wannon Water emergency management will once again deploy field crews today to survey the occurrence of nurdles at beaches along the coastline, which helps direct the clean-up effort towards the most heavily affected areas.

The latest nurdle occurrence map shows the clean-up efforts are making some good progress. Based on information provided by the community, today’s mapping will take place around Pea Soup and South Beach, Port Fairy.

The Wannon Water Facebook page will be updated regularly with details of scheduled beach clean-ups and other news.

Update 6 December 2017

Today the IMT will again be targeting district beaches with the highest density of nurdles. These include:

  • East Beach, from Connolly St heading east, Port Fairy (two crews)
  • Shelly Beach/Second Bay, Warrnambool (one crew)

Wannon Water staff will be leading crews to collect nurdles at these locations today from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

See the latest Community Information Update for more details.

Mapping the nurdles

NurdlemappingquadratThe DELWP/Wannon Water emergency management team has been deploying field crews this week to survey the occurrence of nurdles at beaches on the Warrnambool – Port Fairy coastline.

On advice from Deakin University, they use a scientific survey method, walking along the high-tide line and laying a 50 centimetre x 50 centimetre ‘quadrat’ every 100 metres.

The location is recorded with a GPS and the number of nurdles within the quadrat is counted, and the spot given a rating between 1 (no nurdles) and 4 (more than 30 nurdles). The survey team then continues another 100 metres to survey the next location.

Over the last three days, teams have surveyed the whole 30 kilometre coastline between East Beach in Port Fairy and Logans Beach in Warrnambool.

They have created a nurdle occurrence map, which helps direct the clean-up effort towards the most heavily affected areas.

Today, field crews will be conducting surveys along Flaxman’s Hill (Terry’s Beach) and from Logans Beach to the Warrnambool breakwater.

Update 5 December 2017

Today’s nurdle clean-up will continue to focus on East Beach in Port Fairy and at Warrnambool's Shelly Beach and Logan's Beach where the highest density of nurdles are still being reported. A mechanical beach cleaner will also be in operation at Port Fairy’s East Beach today.

Wannon Water staff will be leading crews at these three sites from 1 to 3pm today. Community members who wish to assist are welcome to come along.

People collecting nurdles from beaches can place them into bins provided at beaches or in Wannon Water’s Gateway Road office foyer. Nurdles being collected in these bins are being passed on to Deakin University who will research their chemical signature as part of a worldwide research program.

The IMT is looking to coordinate a community clean-up effort on the weekend. We’ll provide further details about this as plans come together later this week.

Download today's Community Information Update for further information and details.

Update 4 December 2017

Today's nurdle clean-up is focussing on East Beach in Port Fairy and at Warrnambool's Shelly Beach and Logan's Beach where the highest density of nurdles have been reported.

Wannon Water staff will be leading crews at these three sites from 1 to 3pm today. Community members who wish to assist are welcome to come along.

The Incident Management Team (IMT) estimates that more than 40 litres of nurdles (over one million nurdles) have been collected from district beaches to date.

A dead dolphin was found at East Beach in Port Fairy this morning. This is not an unusual occurrence for this area of coast, particularly given the recent stormy weather and ocean currents. The IMT is confident this is unrelated to nurdles, but an autopsy will be conducted in line with standard wildlife protocols just to be sure.

People who observe wildlife feeding on or around nurdles are being asked to document the incident, preferably with photographs or videos, and notify the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning on 136 186.

Download today's Community Information Update for further information and details.

Update 3 December 2017

Yesterday the nurdle collection efforts were back in action and yielded approximately 20,000 nurdles from Port Fairy East Beach, Shelly Beach and Killarney Beach.

Today, local community members and Wannon Water and DELWP staff will continue to collect nurdles between 1:00pm and 3:00pm. Our crews will be at Port Fairy East Beach, Golfies Beach and at the Flume.

Download today's Community Information Update for further details and refer to the Nurdle Collection Information Sheet if you plan to head out to help with the collection.

The Incident Management Team is also progressing its systematic surveillance of district beaches, mapping nurdle concentrations to ensure our collections are targeted and make the most efficient use of resources. As the mapping comes together, we will make this information available.

Please be aware that beach clean-up locations may change daily depending on the intelligence we receive about nurdle density. So, we suggest you check this web page regularly for the latest.

Please keep an eye on the weather and don't venture to district beaches during severe weather. Gusts of up to 60 km/h are predicted for today, so stay safe.

Shellybeachnurdlecleanup 2Dec2017 Web

Above: The nurdle collection crew at Shelly Beach yesterday.

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Update 2 December 2017

Today the nurdle collection gets back into full swing after the severe weather warnings put a pause on the clean-up efforts yesterday.

Local community members supported by Wannon Water and DELWP staff will be collecting nurdles at several locations today between 10:00am and 1:00pm.

Tomorrow, Sunday 3 December, the nurdle collection will take place from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

Further details are available in today's Community Information Update, including safety tips and details of nurdle collection points. These updates will be issued regularly. 

The Incident Management Team (IMT) has also developed a Nurdle Collection Information Sheet to help those assisting with the clean-up. 

The IMT continues to work on a long-term nurdle management strategy, including devising the most effective collection strategy, monitoring nurdle concentrations and working collaboratively with community efforts.

Nurdles 1 Nurdles 2

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Update 1 December 2017

Due to severe weather forecasts, there will be no nurdle collections on Friday 1 December in the interests safety.

Working in stormy weather is dangerous and the Incident Management Team advises community groups not to venture to district beaches during severe weather.

See the Community Information Update  for the latest information, including nurdle collection times for the weekend, safety tips and details of nurdle collection points. These updates will be issued regularly. 

While there are no crews working on beaches today, the Incident Management Team is in full swing and is currently developing a long-term nurdle managemetn strategy with Wannon Water. This includes devising the most effective collection strategy, working collaboratively with community efforts and developing information materials.

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Update 30 November 2017

The spill of nurdles from Warrnambool’s Sewage Treatment Plant has now been escalated to a Class 2 Emergency under Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley.

This has occurred due to the increasing complexity of responding to the contamination onto district beaches and the need for a multi-agency response.

A regional Incident Control Centre (ICC) has been established in Warrnambool with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning as the lead agency. Wannon Water is acting as a support agency and will be heavily involved, including providing employees into the ICC.

Deakin University Associate Professor Julie Mondon has advised us that the Warrnambool incident is the first recorded spill of nurdles from a sewage treatment plant in Australia that she is aware of. The incident is relatively small compared to spills incidents that have occurred in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in Hong Kong.

Deakin is researching the chemical signature of the nurdles that have washed up on district beaches and they will be added to a worldwide program.

Nurdles collected by teams from Wannon Water will be passed on to Deakin as part of that research. Nurdles shouldn’t go in landfill, but place them in bins provided at beaches or deposit them into a bin located in Wannon Water’s Gateway Road foyer. We will hand them onto Deakin University for research purposes.

Nurdle drop-off point bin

We are still continuing our beach clean-ups, deploying people to the beach early this morning at Killarney and at Logan’s Beach. 

Our sewage treatment plant treats trade waste from Warrnambool, Allansford and Koroit and meets regulatory standards. Like most treatment facilities across Australia, it has multiple systems in place to filter out the huge majority of foreign material that should not be disposed of down the toilet or drain. Plastics, baby wipes and other materials are screened out prior to entering the plant but the equipment is not designed to remove tiny plastics such as nurdles.

As a precautionary measure, we have gone beyond what is required in regulatory standards by installing an additional screen to the sewage treatment plant’s effluent outfall. This is designed to capture any remnant nurdles that may be dislodged from the sides of the tanks and in the plant during the continuing clean-up process.

Individuals who are heading out to help with the beach clean-up should be aware of the following:

  • Be sun smart – remember to stay hydrated, use sunscreen and wear hats and long sleeves
  • Weather – avoid extreme weather or storms
  • Handling – use gloves and wash hands with soap thoroughly afterwards
  • Flora and fauna - Be careful that clean-up efforts don’t impact nesting hooded plovers, or impact other fauna or flora. Find out more through Birdlife Australia here.

Shelly Beach clean-up

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Update 29 November 2017

We have a dedicated response team prioritising and coordinating our immediate and long-term efforts in the clean-up of nurdles on district beaches. Our main priorities are to:

  1. Stop any further contamination into the environment
  2. Clean up the contamination of nurdles and support the community efforts in this regard
  3. Prevent any further plastic contamination into our system
  4. Continue our formal investigation into the original nurdle contamination source.

1. Stopping further contamination

Much of Wannon Water's focus last week was to isolate the tank at the sewage treatment plant in Warrnambool to ensure we could prevent any more illegally dumped nurdles entering the ocean environment.

Our operators painstakingly and physically removed millions of nurdles - 75 bucket loads - from the tanks and other infrastructure. This concentrated effort has ensured these nurdles didn't enter the environment.

2. Cleaning up the nurdles and assisting community efforts

With the plant now cleaned up and returned to full operation, we have diverted our resources to concentrate on the beach clean-up.

Last week we had employees on the ground collecting nurdles from the sand and talking to individuals about the situation. We also supported community efforts at district beaches, including sieves and buckets.

From this week our response teams are actively cleaning up nurdles on the beaches on a daily basis. This will continue for the coming weeks and includes the following:

  • Today we have crews at the Shelly Beach/Second Bay area and in Port Fairy
  • On Tuesday 28 November, we sent crews to Shelly Beach, Second Bay and Port Fairy
  • On Monday 27 November, we sent a crew of 14 people to clean up nurdles from Shelly Beach
  • Regular and frequent inspections of other district beaches to map and coordinate our efforts. Click here to see our mapping of beach locations in Warrnambool
  • We have worked with our supplier of a mechanical beach cleaner to customise the unit’s screens to better suit the collection of nurdles. Our early trials have been very promising and we are looking to have this in action on local beaches in Warrnambool and Port Fairy as soon as possible. This might also be useful to clean other plastics on beaches from other sources.

We continue to support the community efforts, including sieves and buckets in Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Yambuk, and we're researching other potential methods for more efficiently and effectively cleaning up the nurdles.

Wannon Water is also proactively liaising with other agencies, including EPA, DELWP, Parks Victoria, Moyne Shire and Warrnambool City Council, seeking their support through a coordinated response.

We are meeting with local environmental and community groups to brief and update them on the response so far and to answer any questions. We’re also working with Parks Victoria, Bird Life Australia and the Far South West Friends of Hooded Plovers to ensure the clean-up efforts do not have an impact on nesting hooded plovers and other wildlife.

3. Preventing further contamination into our system

While the sewage treatment plant is a secure site and monitored frequently, this incident of illegally dumped nurdles has triggered a broader review of security and monitoring at the plant as an extra precaution. We're confident there are no more nurdles entering the plant.

4. Investigating the source of the nurdles

A thorough investigation into the source of the nurdles is underway and will take some time to complete. This is a priority for Wannon Water and we have called on specialist staff to help with this task.

Further information

Read on to learn more about nurdles and our response, or visit our latest media releases page.

 

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Previous update - 27 November

Wannon Water has launched an investigation after thousands of microplastics, known as nurdles, were illegally dumped through the Warrnambool sewage treatment system.

Wannon Water shares the community’s concern about this event and the impact it is having on our community, the local environment and on Wannon Water’s customers.

The plastic beads (about the size of a lentil) have washed up on nearby beaches and Wannon Water has been actively cleaning up. We have also been providing support and assistance for the community efforts and we applaud those community volunteers who have been out helping to clean up.

So, just what are nurdles and why the concern?

Nurdles are small plastic pellets (about the size of a lentil) that are the raw material used in some plastics manufacturing. They can enter the environment through spills during transportation or manufacturing. Because nurdles are small and light, they are easily distributed by ocean currents.

More information about nurdles and other plastics that can impact the environment is available here.

What's happening with the beach clean-up?

Now that we've mostly cleaned up the sewage treatment plant to get it back to full operation again, we have diverted resources to provide a sustained response on the beaches.

Last week we had employees on the ground collecting nurdles from the sand and talking to individuals about the situation. We also provided assistance for the community efforts, including sieves and buckets both in Warrnambool and Port Fairy.

We will have a response team cleaning up the beaches on a daily basis for the coming weeks.

We're also liaising with other agencies, seeking their support through a coordinated response.

We have also been trialling a mechanical beach cleaner at the Port Fairy beach. Our maintenance branch is working with our supplier to see if they can adapt this to efficiently collect the nurdles. This might also be useful to clean other plastics on beaches from other sources.

Nurdle Machine

How has Wannon Water responded at the sewage treatment plant?

It is important to note that in all aspects of Wannon Water’s operations, including the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant, we have a strong focus on protecting the environment. We release treated water from the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant to the ocean under strict licence conditions set by the EPA.

As soon as we detected the nurdles at the plant, we isolated the tank containing the nurdles to reduce the chance of further release to the ocean. We’ve seen no further evidence of nurdles coming into the plant.

Our operations teams have been busy cleaning up the sewage treatment plant and getting it back into full operation again. We continue to monitor the tanks closely.

Wannon Water also reported the event to Environment Protection Authority and we continue to work with them throughout our investigation into the source and ongoing clean-up effort.

This is the first time we've recorded nurdles creating problems at the plant. Wannon Water has a long history of compliance with its EPA licence across all of its 18 sewage treatment plants.

Is the sewage treatment plant designed to remove nurdles?

The reason Wannon Water exists is to protect the environment and public health. That’s what our employees do every day.

Our Warrnambool sewage treatment plant treats sewage and trade waste from Warrnambool, Allansford and Koroit and has multiple systems in place, including fine screens, to filter out the huge majority of plastics and other foreign material.

However, they are not designed to remove microplastics, such as these nurdles. That’s why small plastics should never be flushed or put down the sink. Larger objects are screened out before entering the plant.

Wannon Water is also embarking on a major upgrade of the Warrnambool sewage treatment plant, estimated to cost $30-$40 million and expected to be completed by 2020-21. This will include a whole new screening plant.

Are nurdles an issue in other areas?

This is not just a local concern, unfortunately. The problem with microplastics, plastics and other rubbish washing up on our beaches is a global issue and a major concern for us all.

Deakin University has been researching nurdles at their laboratories in Warrnambool and have reported that most seem to come from the one location, but there are others that appear to be from a different source.

Prevention is better than cure. We urge everyone to consider the environmental impact of their waste disposal practices in their homes and their businesses.

Our education programs consistently remind people not to flush foreign objects such as so-called ‘flushable’ wipes, nappies, cotton buds or fats. These get caught in our screens, which can cause major problems in our sewerage system and ultimately cost our customers money.

What about other sewage treatment plants along the coast?

As a precaution, Wannon Water has checked the Port Fairy and Portland sewage treatment plants, which have shown no signs of nurdles. We will continue to monitor these sites closely.