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Regulators missed toxic waste dumping operation, twice

Bradbury and an associate, Graham Leslie White, are allegedly part of a national syndicate responsible for running the biggest toxic waste dumping operation in the state’s history, one which has led to about 50 million litres of chemicals being illegally stockpiled in Melbourne warehouses and buried on a remote property in Victoria’s west.

Bradbury’s collapse, and the regulator’s failure to detect its conduct, means two legitimate industry businesses are now being held financially responsible for disposing of the waste, as well as facing prosecution by the EPA for alleged violations of their licences.

Stephen Campbell, operations director at David Barry Logistics, said the firm could not afford the expected $1.5 million cost to dispose of 1200 plastic 1000-litre containers that Bradbury’s had left with it.

“Bradbury sent them to us as part of a clean-up operation being overseen by the regulator. We accepted the material in good faith based on what the manifest and labels said were in the containers. It was supposed to be ethanol and burner fuel.”

The toxic waste chemicals shipped to David Barry Logistics after being labelled as industrial fuel.

The toxic waste chemicals shipped to David Barry Logistics after being labelled as industrial fuel.Credit:Eddie Jim

In January 2019, WorkSafe detected an illegal stockpile of more than 2 million litres of chemicals in a Campbellfield warehouse near Bradbury’s main chemical processing factory.

The property owner, who asked to have their identity withheld, said Bradbury had rented the building in mid-2016 to store what it claimed was autoglass cleaner destined for sale to overseas markets.

“The containers were all labelled and the product is not classified as needing a licence to store it. It all looked legitimate and we had no reason to suspect otherwise until [WorkSafe] turned up,” a spokesman for the owner said.

During the investigation, Bradbury admitted to WorkSafe the containers were actually full of hazardous materials such as solvents and industrial fuels, which require special permits and safety precautions to store.

WorkSafe supervised a two-month operation run by Bradbury that led to the property being emptied, signing off on its completion in March 2019.

But the regulator had not independently verified the contents of the containers before they were shipped by Bradbury with official approval to facilities such as David Barry Logistics, which accepted 1.2 million litres for storage.

Bradbury Industrial Services' Campbellfield factory in the days after the April 2019 fire, which was caused by an industrial accident

Bradbury Industrial Services’ Campbellfield factory in the days after the April 2019 fire, which was caused by an industrial accident

Another large quantity was sent to a company now controlled by major industry player Australasian Solvents and Chemical Company.

The deception was not detected until after the April 2019 fire that destroyed the Bradbury factory and investigations revealed its alleged involvement in the toxic dumping syndicate.

EPA testing has subsequently revealed the containers were actually full of what the agency classifies as toxic waste. The regulator is now pursuing the businesses for “accepting wastes without a licence to do so”.

“[David Barry Logistics] and [ASCC] are licensed for the storage of dangerous goods/chemicals, but neither are licensed to accept or store waste chemicals,” said Tim Eaton, acting EPA chief executive.

“Organisations that enter a commercial arrangement take on any associated risks as part of the supply chain. These companies have taken on the responsibility by accepting these materials. Establishing what the containers held should have formed part of the organisations’ due diligence.”

WorkSafe declined to comment on the nature of the materials inside the containers or the circumstances under which Bradbury was able to inappropriately transport chemical waste while under the supervision of the agency.

“WorkSafe’s priority is to ensure dangerous goods such as flammable liquids are safely stored and handled, and it will take action against any duty holder who it believes is not complying with regulations,” a spokeswoman said.

In response, Mr Campbell called on WorkSafe and the EPA to take responsibility for the Bradbury stockpiles as the regulators have done in other instances of illicit dumping by the alleged Bradbury/White syndicate.

Questions also remain about what happened to potentially toxic chemical waste Bradbury may have shipped to international destinations.

Peter Pluess, managing director of logistics operator Fracht Australia, said the company had received hundreds of pallets from Bradbury of what was marked as industrial fuel.

“The products we received definitely weren’t supposed to be waste, and I believe some of it was exported,” he said.

Since the collapse of Bradbury last year, any remaining stock has been disposed of at EPA-licensed waste facilities.

The Australasian Solvents and Chemical Company did not respond to a request for comment.

The owners and operators of Bradbury Industrial Services have not been charged with any criminal offence. Graham Leslie White is currently facing 55 charges in a prosecution brought by WorkSafe.

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