Immediate notification now obligatory
New laws have been put in place in NSW, following last year’s Orica chemical leaks, making much stricter rules for reporting pollution incidents.
The new laws make directors and managers of organisations liable if pollution incidents are not notified immediately to relevant regulatory authorities. “Immediately” is not defined, but it’s expected the ordinarily understood meaning will apply, which may place significantly increased reporting and administrative burdens on companies. Previously, the law required someone becoming aware of an incident to notify the appropriate regulatory authority “as soon as practicable”.
Pollution incident response management plans now need to have a clear procedure and chain of responsibility for notification in place, along with appropriate staff training to identify incidents requiring notification.
Information that must be provided includes a detailed description of the action to take immediately after a pollution incident, procedures to follow in notifying and coordinating with relevant authorities, and action to combat the pollution. A further change to the law also requires occupiers of premises to have pollution response management plans.
Public concerns, along with the newly strengthened independence and powers of the Environment Protection Authority, mean that it is likely to take action against those who breach the new rules.
Penalties for failing to notify have doubled – in the case of corporations to $2,000,000 and $240,000 each day an offence continues, and for individuals $500,000 and $120,000.
Contact your solicitor for advice on compliance with the environmental laws.