QUESTION: Public notification of pollution incidents

In Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Trade and Investment, representing the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government about public notification following the spill of aviation fuel into the Port River. 

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Sometime on Saturday afternoon it appears that some 500 litres of aviation fuel spilled on a ship in the Port River and that much of it ended up in the river. Residents reported strong odours, feeling nauseous; there were reports of vomiting; there were reports of people whose houses were full of fumes, making it very uncomfortable to live inside their homes. It appears the Department of Transport was informed around 5.30pm on Saturday about this incident, but the first notification I could find was from the EPA. It was on Twitter, and it was the following day at 1.12pm to their quite small list of 2,281 Twitter followers.

This notification was after most of the impacts of the fuel spill had dissipated. Coincidentally, I actually spent Friday afternoon meeting with the EPA to discuss public notification of pollution incidents, but that does not really help when it is a different agency that is the key agency with responsibility.

My questions of the Minister are:

1. What protocols does DPTI have in place to notify the public of such incidents?

2. Will the minister consider expanding the newly revamped Alert SA smart phone app to incorporate pollution incidents?

3. Does the Minister consider it acceptable that the first official notification was narrow in scope and some 18 hours after the agency first became aware of the pollution incident?

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Minister for Trade and Investment): I thank the honourable member for his question and his very vigilant support of the environment, and I will take those questions on notice and refer them to my colleague the Hon. Stephan Knoll, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government, in the other place and bring back a reply.

Response received on April 28, 2020.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Minister for Trade and Investment): The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government has advised:

1. The Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) has a range of channels for providing information to the general public and stakeholders, including notice to mariners, DPTI social media channels (Facebook and Twitter), DPTI and websites and media alerts. These are tailored to the situation and deployed as is deemed appropriate. In this case, due to the location and size of the spill, Flinders Ports was responsible for the 'issuing of warnings and incident information to the community and affected stakeholders' under the agreement for Port Adelaide. DPTI assisted in this by issuing media statements as the incident unfolded.

2. Alert SA is capable of including pollution events, DPTI will consider adding marine pollution incidents to Alert SA.

3. DPTI was not informed of any smell or that it was persisting until approximately 15 hours after the spill occurred.

When notified, DPTI and the Environment Protection Authority inspected the area and could not find any source of the smell on the water or banks of the Port River.

As Flinders Ports are the responsible agency for such sized minor spills within the Port River, personnel and members of the MFS attended the spill which was cleaned up quickly.

DPTI were satisfied that the pollution response was handled adequately, and is of the opinion that the smell which was noticed by residents many hours later was not from the minor spill into the Port River, but was from the venting of the shore based tanks which the fuel was being transferred into.

Caltex have recently advised DPTI that the fuel which was being transferred to the shore based tanks from this vessel has a very strong odour.