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Efforts to improve water quality continue after factory fire pollutes creek

A month after runoff from a factory fire in Melbourne contaminated a nearby creek, the cleanup is far from over.

The fire in West Footscray took firefighters days to contain and resulted in a large amount of water ending up in Stony Creek, which flows downstream into the Yarra River.

Although measures were in place to contain the runoff, the volume of water used – up to 16,000 litres a minute at some points – meant a significant amount escaped.

Dead fish, eels and other marine life washed up on the banks of the creek following the fire, and residents have complained of migraines, nosebleeds and sore throats.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief Environmental Scientist Dr Andrea Hinwood said water quality analysis revealed the creek contained a range of pollutants, including detergents, industrial solvents, volatile industrial solvent compounds called BTEX (benezene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) and PFAS.

Melbourne Water has been working with the EPA and Maribyrnong City Council on the recovery. The utility has so far removed approximately 70 million litres of water and 170 cubic metres of contaminated sediment from the creek.

It has now moved on to the labour-intensive task of pressure washing the banks and rocks and removing affected vegetation, which will be replaced.

“The agencies have had to remove a large number of dead fish, which is not surprising given the concentrations of pollutants that we have observed in the creek,” Hinwood said.

“The good news is, as we move further out of Stony Creek into the Yarra River, the concentrations have not been at levels that would constitute a harm for aquatic life.”

Last week, the Victorian Government announced it would provide more than $1 million in funding to restore the creek, in addition to the $600,000 already invested by Melbourne Water as part of the initial clean up.

This includes $700,000 for removal, disposal and remediation works, and $350,000 for water sampling, testing and monitoring by the EPA to determine the impact of the fire on the waterway. These findings will inform the final recovery plan.

The EPA has issued a number of notices to the owners of the factory site that require them to inspect the property daily to check on any materials stored there, install security fences, keep access ways clear and ensure controls are in place so no runoff can enter stormwater drains.

If the owners fail to comply with these measures, they face a fine of more than $48,000 plus $8000 for every day the works are overdue.

Although contamination levels are decreasing as the cleanup continues, the EPA is still warning residents to avoid contact with the water and keep pets away from the creek.