General information

Incident management

The nurdle spill incident was declared a Class 2 State Emergency on November 30 with a multi-agency Incident Management Team established and the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) as the control agency.

The ‘state emergency’ classification was revoked by the DELWP State Agency Commander on December 22. The incident’s status as an ‘emergency’ was withdrawn by the Municipal Emergency Response Coordinator on January 2.

Wannon Water is now managing the event through a dedicated incident team which ensures there is specific attention on the clean up effort and it is not considered part of “business as usual”. Triggers exist to allow a joint agency response to be re-established if necessary. Ensuring appropriate clean up and recovery from the incident remains a very high priority.

Nurdles on beach

Current work

Our incident team is currently concentrating on three main objectives:

  1. Returning the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant to normal operation by the end of the month.
  2. Conducting response and recovery activities required by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) so that we not only comply with their amended clean up notice by the end of January, but go beyond this to ensure the broader community is satisfied with our approach.
  3. Identifying the source of the nurdles by the end of the month.

We have cleaned the vast majority of the nurdles out of the sewage treatment plant and put in an additional permanent screen on the outlet to ensure no remaining nurdles can pass through to the ocean. This screen is being cleaned daily and is only capturing small numbers of nurdles. The EPA is satisfied with this approach.

Nurdle mapping

We continue to inspect all the beaches between Warrnambool and Port Fairy on a fortnightly basis as well as conduct daily monitoring of social media and other community information to provide a clear picture of the volume of nurdles polluting local beaches.

We are also collecting and removing nurdles and other plastic waste from the environment, targeting beaches where higher volumes of nurdles are being observed. This work has been occurring five days a week excluding public holidays. We also acknowledge the very significant contribution by community volunteers to remove nurdles from the beaches, and we continue to work in collaboration with the Good Will Nurdle Hunting group.

Recent surveys indicate that reducing volumes of nurdles are being found along the high tide mark. Shelly Beach and Second Bay in Warrnambool have higher concentrations of remaining nurdles compared to other beaches. We are considering whether larger crews doing weekly clean ups may be more effective given the reducing volumes of nurdles being observed.

We are continuing our investigations into the original source of the nurdles with assistance from the EPA.

The Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant treats waste from Koroit, Allansford, Warrnambool and a range of other locations and facilities across the region. Despite a number of interviews and inspections of various sites, we do not yet know the original source of the nurdles and the investigation will therefore continue into the foreseeable future.

Impact

Wannon Water employees are dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. It is a key focus in all areas of our operations every day. That is why we are all disappointed that this incident occurred in the first place.

The majority of nurdles that spilled into the ocean from the sewage treatment plant appear to have washed up along the coastline from Warrnambool to Port Fairy. Beaches most affected have been Shelly Beach and Second Bay in Warrnambool and East Beach at Port Fairy.

East Beach

There is no evidence of an impact on public health or safety attributed to the nurdle spill.

There is also no evidence of a link between the death of local wildlife and the nurdles. The examinations of deceased animals found on local beaches has been handled by DELWP.  Diagnostic testing showed a small number of bird carcasses were found to have nurdles in their gut, however it was determined that there was no evidence that the cause of death was due to the nurdles.

Wannon Water estimates it has spent around $200,000 on its response to the nurdle spill over the past six weeks, including employee time, labour hire and equipment. A total of approximately 18 litres (two buckets full) of nurdles have been collected off beaches by community volunteers and teams from Wannon Water as at the end of December 2017. 

Beyond the event

The Warrnambool incident is believed to be the first recorded spill of nurdles from a sewage treatment plant in Australia. Despite the efforts to date, Wannon Water acknowledges it is unlikely that all the nurdles will be removed from the environment.

While our commitment to the clean up continues, we have also started to consider the broader problem of plastics on local beaches as part of a longer-term project. It is possible that with a coordinated effort and an ongoing community awareness program, the volume of all plastics polluting our beaches will be lower than before the nurdle incident.

Further information

Further information is available here