Published in Warrandyte Diary
By Michelle Pini
Park Orchards landfill sparks fire and fear
Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) followed up a request from local CFA officers to investigate the cause of spontaneous fire eruptions in Park Orchards recently.
CFA crews were called to Stintons Reserve twice in six weeks to attend to fire incidents that appear to have been sparked by “self-combusting material”.
South Warrandyte CFA Captain Greg Kennedy told the Diary, “We asked the EPA to inspect the site to determine the cause of the eruptions, as our fire investigation team were satisfied they were not deliberately lit”.
The fires occurred at the reserve’s fenced-off greyhound slipping track. The reserve is situated above the original site of the Park Orchards tip, which closed in the early 1990’s. The track has been free of fire incidence since its inception about 12 years ago.
Greg Kennedy stressed it was purely a precautionary measure. “I felt a bit uneasy given the history of the reserve and the fact that it happened twice in a matter of six weeks,” he said.
An EPA spokesperson said they had attended the site along with Manningham council officers and determined the cause of the outbreaks to be naturally occurring decomposition. He advised that they eliminated “the possibility of a sub-surface fire”.
“The fire was caused by a mixture of decomposing organic matter (sawdust in this case), generating enough heat to ignite the sawdust,” he said.
The fires caused concern about methane leaks among Park Orchards residents.
This is not a big leap given a methane scandal several years ago at a Cranbourne landfill. The methane issue resulted in a class action against the City of Casey and the EPA that saw residents awarded $23.5 million in compensation.
Many such domestic waste dumps (including Stintons Reserve) were closed over prior to the introduction of more stringent regulations in 2004, requiring all landfills to be lined to provide leak protection.
The EPA subsequently reviewed metropolitan landfills, putting councils on notice to clean up sites where pollution of land or groundwater posed a potential risk to human health.
In 2013, the environmental watchdog issued a pollution abatement notice to Manningham Council. The EPA issued the warning after conducting a compliance inspection at Stintons Reserve, Park Orchards to assess management of contaminants leaking from the closed landfill.
The notice, which was later amended to allow additional time for the works to be completed, stated: “Water sampling results and an assessment of the pipe integrity shows leachate from the landfill is contaminating the surface water piped beneath the landfill and the surrounding ground.” It also stipulated, “that this non-compliance, or likely non-compliance, must be remedied.”
Manningham council’s director of assets and engineering Leigh Harrison said the landfill had been rehabilitated in accordance with applicable standards at that time.
He confirmed that council have been “progressively upgrading” management of the site over the last 12 months “to accord with current standards.”
Mr Harrison stressed, “The present situation offers no threat to the health of those persons using the oval, BMX facility or the slipping track. The works will simply result in a renewed, and improved, leachate management system.”
With regard to recent fire activity at the site, Mr Harrison said, “There is no evidence of any issue with methane generation from the landfill contributing to these issues.”
The EPA pollution abatement notice stipulates that all relevant works must be completed by 31 May 2015.
The arrival of warmer weather has also sparked community fears of recurring spontaneous fire activity at the slipping track.
Manningham council advised: “Council has spoken to the club and suggested that the track surface, which becomes compacted, be ‘turned over’ on a semi regular basis throughout the year and especially the summer months.”