Where a site has been contaminated, it is important that management and/or remediation takes place appropriate to the use of the site.
Contaminated land and groundwater can be cleaned up in a range of ways. Scroll down to find out more about the methods used. In some cases, surface water may also be contaminated and require clean-up.
There are laws and regulations in Victoria that can enforce the clean-up of contamination, and EPA has the ability to issue remedial notices. Pollution is an offence under Victoria’s Environment Protection Act 2017 and where sufficient evidence exists EPA can fine or prosecute the polluter.
Soil remediation methods range from simply replacing contaminated soil with clean soil, through to more complete treatment technologies.
Examples of soil treatment technologies include bioremediation, thermal treatment and soil vapor extraction.
Groundwater clean-up technologies should be assessed for their ability to meet clean-up objectives, resulting in the most effective and practicable technology(ies) being selected.
Examples of groundwater clean-up technologies include pump and treat systems, bioremediation, air sparging, air stripping with activated carbon adsorption and permeable reactive walls
There are laws and regulations in Victoria that can enforce the clean-up of contamination, and EPA has the ability to issue remedial notices (clean up notices and pollution abatement notices).
Pollution is an offence under Victoria’s Environment Protection Act 2017, and where sufficient evidence exists, EPA can fine or prosecute the polluter. The Act outlines the ‘polluter pays’ principle which states that “persons who generate pollution and waste should bear the cost of containment, avoidance and abatement”.
In applying this principle, EPA will consider the party or parties that directly allowed or caused the pollution. EPA will also consider whether the current owner or occupier of the site is the most appropriate party to bear the cost, including whether the occupier’s actions – for example, negligence, lack of due diligence or acquiescence – have contributed to the pollution.
- If EPA requires clean-up, through a remedial notice, the polluter or owner would be required to bear the cost of complying with the notice.
- If you are cleaning up for your own peace of mind, you would ordinarily bear the cost.
- If clean-up is related to site purchase/disposal then payment would often be as agreed in the sale/purchase documents.
When it comes to smaller scale an inexpensive backyard soil testing like what is offered by VegeSafe, the person who arranges the soil test would pay (VegeSafe costs approximately $20 for up to five soil samples).
Whether the contaminated land will be cleaned up and to what extent depends on the level of contamination and risks posed to human health and/or the environment.
Site assessment and clean-up is a specialised task that should only be conducted by a qualified and experienced environmental consultant
There are a number of professional associations that may be able to help you by providing contact details for their members. You should also ask a prospective environmental consultant to provide you with evidence of their remediation experience and expertise.
Some associations include:
- Australian Contaminated Land Consultants Association
- Australasian Land and Groundwater Association
- Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand
- Engineers Australia
- Soil Science Australia
- Association of Australasian Acoustical Consultants
- Australian Institute of Geoscientists
- International Association of Hydrogeologists (Australian Chapter)
- Consult Australia
Victoria’s Environment Protection Act 2017 includes the legal responsibilities, obligations and powers of the EPA to require clean-up, extending to and including duties such as the general environmental duty (GED) and subordinate instruments.
The National Environment Protection Measure (NEPM) relevant to contaminated land is the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999 (ASC NEPM). The ASC NEPM is a national guideline for the assessment and management of contaminated land, which helps protect Australians irrespective of where they live.
Under Victoria’s Environment Protection Act 2017 the former State environment protection policies (SEPPs) and Waste management policies (WMPs), such as the State Environment Protection Policy (Groundwaters of Victoria) and State Environment Protection Policy (Prevention and Management of Contamination of Land), no longer have formal legal status as they did under the former Environment Protection Act 1970. Read more about the Discontinuation of SEPPs and WMPs.
For the latest information and advice on how to clean up after a flood, see:
Page last updated: 08/06/23