Environmental Site Assessments – Environmental Audit

Contaminated Land Audits

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The term ‘audit’ can be taken to mean a number of things.  Within Victoria under the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (Part 8.3) statutory environmental auditors are appointed by EPA Victoria and have the role of providing:

  1. Preliminary risk screening assessments; and
  2. Environmental audits.

In Victoria, the role of an environmental auditor is to independently ensure that audited land meets the specifications for all ‘beneficial uses’ (53x audit), or to evaluate the risk of harm from a process or activity on some segment of the environment (53v audit).  Consequently, auditors should be independent of the environmental consultant engaged to assess and/or clean up the property.

Atma Environmental has been completing detailed site investigations necessary to satisfy this rigorous process since 1996.  If you own a site that requires a statutory environmental audit for planning purposes, then you will want to have our sage advice before engaging with an environmental auditor.

53x Audits may be required if the property is to be rezoned to a more ‘sensitive’ land use (e.g. commercial to residential), an environmental audit overlay (EAO) applies, or a request has been made to remove it from the Priority Sites Register (an official list of badly polluted sites in Victoria), or it has specific audit requirements under an EPA Victoria notice.  A voluntary audit may also be requested where the above triggers do not apply (e.g. for contractual purposes).

The auditor must prepare a separate report based on the site assessment / clean-up work and evaluate contamination in the light of ‘any beneficial uses’ that may be made of the site and in accordance with EPA guidelines. This may involve an assessment of the site by others than the assessor, such as a human health risk specialist.  The EPA must be informed when the Auditor is appointed and of the results of their audit once completed.  In addition, a scaled fee (based on the square area of the site) is payable to the EPA upon notifying them that an audit has been requested.

Under the provisions of the new Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2018, auditors may issue a preliminary risk assessment stating that an environmental audit is required, or not required (a ‘streamlined process’ envisaged for less complex sites); or a ‘regular’ 53x environmental audit.

The purpose of an environmental audit is —

  1. to assess the nature and extent of the risk of harm to human health or the environment from contaminated land, waste, pollution or any activity;
  2. to recommend measures to manage the risk of harm to human health or the environment from contaminated land, waste, pollution or any activity; and
  3. to make recommendations to manage the contaminated land, waste, pollution or activity.

53v environmental audits may be limited to an assessment of some segment of the environment (e.g. land or surface water) and/or a specific activity (e.g. risks from development of a former landfill).

Before a 53x environmental audit may be completed, the environmental assessment and remediation works (if required) must be completed and documented by the site assessor.  The time needed to complete the necessary site investigations and environmental audit (contaminated land) report for a site will vary from months to years depending on many factors – but it cannot be done in a few weeks.

There may be important exclusions from the audit; however, if the environmental audit assessed the use or proposed use of a site in relation to the risk of harm to human health or the environment from contaminated land, waste or pollution, the environmental auditor’s assessment must say if the site is suitable (or not suitable) for the purposes specified in the statement; or indicate in the statement what recommendations / conditions made need to be complied with.

Recommendations / conditions made in an environmental audit may include items such as the maintenance of physical barriers against contamination exposure and the development of such land can proceed if the recommendations are adhered to, or if levels of site contamination are acceptable and in keeping with the proposed land use.  Complete and total clean-up of contamination is not always required.

Atma Environmental is here to assist you in determining if an environmental audit is required (or not), forecast for you the implications of requesting an audit, connect you with an accredited auditor and work as your advocate and expert site assessor throughout the entire statutory process.