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EPA investigation into Sunshine groundwater contamination

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Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) has investigated groundwater contamination in the Sunshine area with a focus on the former Massey Ferguson site – this site is sometimes referred to as the Sunshine Harvester Works site.

The site occupies a large part of central Sunshine and is bounded by Ballarat Road, Anderson Road, the Sunbury railway line and an irregular boundary on the eastern side that includes sections of Hampshire Road and George Street, Sunshine.

Map of the former Massey Ferguson site (click for large version)


EPA’s investigation began after we became aware that a chemical called trichloroethylene (TCE) was detected in groundwater and as a vapour at the former Sunvale Primary School site (Neil Street, Sunshine) in late 2014.

EPA has issued a clean up notice (PDF 319KB appendices A and B PDF 776KB) to AGCO Australia Limited (AGCO) (previously known as Massey Ferguson), requiring it to investigate and clean up the former Massey Ferguson site, which has been identified as a source of contamination.

This page provides further information and updates on the investigation.

Are there any risks to people?

It is unlikely that community members will be exposed to groundwater as it is not used for drinking in the Sunshine area, and is not commonly used for activities such as watering the garden or filling swimming pools because it is high in salinity (salt) and in low supply.

Anyone accessing groundwater via a groundwater bore should avoid direct contact with the water, and test that it is suitable for the intended use.

Where TCE is present as a vapour, there is a potential risk to people in buildings with underground cellars or basements where vapours could collect. However, EPA has not identified any residential cellars or basements in the area.

If you have an underground cellar or basement and are concerned about potential exposure to vapours or groundwater, please contact EPA on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC) so any potential risks can be assessed.

EPA will continue to investigate groundwater contamination and potential sources of soil and groundwater contamination in the wider Sunshine area.

Where did the contamination come from?

There are a number of known sources of contamination in Sunshine that have contaminated soil and/or groundwater. These are generally sites where industrial activity has previously occurred. The former Massey Ferguson site is the largest of these past industrial sites, where agricultural machinery was manufactured at a large scale from 1906 to 1986.

This site was assessed during the 1990s and was found to have widespread contamination. Although there was some remediation (stopping environmental damage) of the site prior to its reuse, some contamination remained and its impact on groundwater has not yet been thoroughly assessed.

A clean up notice for the site has been issued to AGCO, which owned and operated the site at the time that the contaminating activities are likely to have occurred. Although ACGO no longer owns the site and it has since been redeveloped, EPA considers that, under the Environment Protection Act 1970 (EP Act), AGCO is responsible for any contamination caused by its past industrial activities. The clean up notice requires AGCO to:

  • investigate contamination further
  • assess potential risks to human health and the environment
  • undertake any necessary cleanup of the site to an acceptable level.

EPA is also continuing its investigation of other former industrial sites across the nearby area.

Legacy of an industrial past

The former Massey Ferguson site was a key part of Melbourne’s industrial history. However, environmental pollution from industrial activities was largely unregulated until the early 1970s, when the EP Act required businesses to reduce their impact on the environment. Even after the introduction of the EP Act, it has taken decades to develop the high standards of environmental assessment that we expect today. Dealing with legacy pollution from past industrial activities is a key focus for EPA and we’re working with the community to provide information and manage any risks.

Groundwater beneath Sunshine

Groundwater is water that collects and flows beneath the ground surface and fills the small spaces in soil, sand, clay and rocks. Groundwater can be accessed via a groundwater bore (sometimes called a well).

As the figure below shows, groundwater beneath Sunshine is about 10 metres below the ground surface. It flows through fractured basalt, which is a volcanic rock with lots of cracks through it. To test the groundwater, small holes (from about 50 mm in diameter) called ‘groundwater bores’ are drilled into the ground so groundwater samples can be collected.

Once in the groundwater, TCE can move back up through the soil as a vapour. EPA air testing has not found any TCE vapours above ground or in buildings.

How TCE moves from groundwater into the air (click for large version)

How pollution flows through groundwater

Page last updated on 20 Jun 2017