In Question Time today, Mark asked the Minister for Human Services, representing the Minister for Environment and Water, why details of the January pollution incident were not incorporated into the EPA's public register as legally required and what action the Minister will take to ensure that all future reports of actual or threatened serious or material environmental harm are incorporated into the public register.
The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The ABC reported yesterday two pollution incidents at the Nyrstar smelter at Port Pirie, one a cadmium leak to groundwater beneath the plant in 2017 and, the second, a sulphuric acid spill into the environment, which reportedly resulted in a major fish kill of several hundreds of fish, which took place in January this year.
The ABC reported that they discovered this only through freedom of information. They discovered also that various briefings were prepared in relation to these incidents for Minister Whetstone and various media advisers but, in relation to the sulphuric acid spill, the only people who weren't told were the people of Port Pirie and the general public.
The EPA's response to concerns raised by the ABC were basically three points. Their first point was that the company Nyrstar should have notified the public, not the EPA. Secondly, the EPA decided not to notify the public because they didn't perceive any public health risks, and I note that that's effectively what the Minister has said in his ministerial statement that was tabled just a few minutes ago. Thirdly, their advice was, 'Don't eat any fish taken from the Port Pirie River.'
The law, on the other hand, is quite clear. The law provides in the Environment Protection Act in section 109 that any notifications, or in fact anything that relates to serious or material environmental harm that comes to the notice of the authority, must be published on the public register. It must be published as soon as practicable but in any event within three months. Clearly, that has not happened.
My questions of the minister are:
1. Why weren't details of the January pollution incident incorporated into the EPA's public register as legally required by section 109 of the Environment Protection Act?
2. What action will the Minister take to ensure that all future reports of actual or threatened serious or material environmental harm are incorporated into the public register?
3. Will the Minister take steps to ensure that any past pollution incidents that the law required be reported will also now be incorporated into the public register?
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I thank the honourable member for those questions. I will take those on notice and seek a response from the Minister responsible and bring them back to the Parliament.
Response received on November 28, 2019.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): The Minister for Environment and Water has advised:
As outlined in the Minister for Environment and Water's ministerial statement on 30 October 2019 the EPA board is conducting a review into the matters and will report back to the Minister for Environment and Water.
I am advised that the review will look into the EPA's policies and protocols regarding information provided on the public register under section 109 Environment Protection Act 1993 (the act) and in the public domain generally.
I am advised that the review will take into account the number of complexities within this section of the act, particularly when a potential breach of the act has been alleged or is being investigated.