Current issues

Assessment of materials on site


West Footscray/Tottenham industrial fire site

WorkSafe is now using its powers to directly oversee the removal of waste chemicals at the fire site. You can read more on WorkSafe’s website and about EPA’s regulatory action on this page.

Assessment of materials remaining on site

On 30 August 2018, a large fire broke out in a warehouse at 420 Somerville Road, Tottenham. This fire is sometimes known as the West Footscray industrial fire.

This page summarises EPA’s assessment of onsite contamination following the fire.

It also provides a summary of air pollutants, before and after the fire which were provided to community during and shortly after the fire.

It is important to note that chemicals remaining on site pose no health risk while in the drums on site and measures to contain these substances are in place

EPA has also been working closely with Melbourne Water on the rehabilitation of Stony Creek.

If you are feeling unwell EPA encourages you to call Nurse on Call (1300 60 60 24) or see your doctor. EPA has also issued health advice relating to Stony Creek.

Air quality during and immediately after the fire

Air monitoring to measure air pollutants including fine particles (PM2.5), asbestos and a wide range of chemicals (volatile organic compounds) was carried out during and after the fire in the nearby residential area.

Measured concentrations of fine particles and VOCs were confirmed to be well below health-based air quality guidelines and the results of airborne asbestos were below the limit of detection.

Additional information about VOCs

Air monitoring for PM2.5 was undertaken as a marker of the source of smoke and a measure of advice to the community on reducing exposure.

  • Smoke produced from this fire event likely released VOCs. VOCs are organic chemicals that may cause harm to human health and the environment. To evaluate the impact of VOCs on local air quality, air monitoring of VOCs during and after the fire event was conducted.
  • Two 8-hour air samples were collected at a nearby location on the day of the fire to determine the effects of smoke from the fire. Results were compared against US EPA Acute Exposure Level Guidelines (AEGLs), which are used during emergencies as guidance in dealing with rare, usually accidental, releases of chemicals into the air. The sampling results showed the VOCs detected were measured at low levels and well below the health impact criteria.
  • Further 24-, 72- and 168-hour air samples were collected and analysed in residential and sensitive areas near Stony Creek. Water run-off from the site produced VOCs emitting a chemical odour. Results were compared against the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Minimal Risk Levels (ATSDR MRLs). ATSDR MRL measures time periods of 1 to 14 days. Results indicated the VOCs detected were at low levels and well below the health impact criteria.
  • Additional 24-, and 168-hour air samples were collected and analysed for VOCs in residential and areas where odour was noted, particularly in Park Avenue near Stony Creek. Chemical odour and VOC emissions from the flash flood at Park Avenue occurring on 06/11/2018 were analysed and indicated low levels well below the health impact criteria.
  • Although VOC levels measured in the air were low, community members may have detected odour as these chemicals can be smelt at concentrations below the health impact criteria. 

Subsequent sampling of remaining chemical drums

A complex sampling program of the remaining drums located at the site was conducted between May and June 2019.

Waste from a representative sample of drums was analysed for nearly 400 individual chemicals. Laboratory analyses and interpretation were completed in October 2019.

Chemicals tested for in this recent analysis included:

  • hydrocarbons
  • solvents
  • pesticides
  • poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
  • heavy metals
  • asbestos. 

Subsequent sludge and water samples

Samples were collected from water and sludge remaining on site between May and June 2019 to identify the presence of hazardous chemicals.

What does the subsequent analysis show?

A mix of over one hundred hazardous and industrial chemical substances were identified inside the drums.

These chemicals pose no health risk while in the drums and measures to contain these substances are in place.

WorkSafe is now using its powers to directly oversee the removal of waste chemicals at the fire site. You can read more on WorkSafe’s website.

Samples taken indicate waste remaining on-site contains:

  • large amounts of solvents (e.g. acetone, cyclohexane)
  • hydrocarbons
  • halogenated hydrocarbons
  • poly- and monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Classes of chemicals identified include: alkanes, chlorinated hydrocarbons, monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (MAHs), metals, phenols (non-halogenated and halogenated), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides (terbutryn), PFAS (PFOS), plasticisers (phthalates, monophenyl ditolyl phosphate II), solvents (acetone, cyclohexane, MEK), semi-volatile organic compounds, and volatile organic compounds.

Compounds such as PFAS and PFOA were found at lower concentrations.

Some of the PAHs detected were likely formed from the combustion of the chemicals and materials on site.

An analysis for unknown chemicals (non-target analysis) which picks up all possible chemicals not already identified using standard analysis methods was conducted to identify any unknown chemicals.

Concentrations are semi-qualitative and therefore indicative only. Chemicals that were identified, but not necessarily in high concentrations, included PAHs, MAHs, acetates, solvents (MIBK) and di-isocyanate compounds.

Sludge and water samples contained the same sorts of chemicals found in drum and waste samples showing concentrations of PFAS, PAHs and hydrocarbons.

Why did the analysis take so long to complete?

The assessment was complex and needed to be undertaken with all safety considerations in place and required the use of specialised laboratories, as well as the interpretation of results given over 400 chemicals were assessed.

How does EPA use this information?

Data collected informs the development of a site clean-up and management plan to ensure that any actions on site do not release any hazardous chemicals off site posing a risk to community and the environment.

It will also help inform WorkSafe and relevant employers’ handling and disposal/treatment of the materials, so that the safety of staff on-site is not at risk.

Page last updated on 19 Nov 2019