On Tuesday, lawyers for David Barry Logistics wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews, Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio and Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy asking for the state government to intervene to halt the clean-up order. Being forced to pay for the clean-up threatened the “very existence” of the business, the letter said.
“A solution is needed that will allow DBL to remain viable while removing these [containers of waste] from its premises, which were foisted on DBL under false pretences, under the watch and direction of the government’s own taskforce,” wrote Jonathon Lean of law firm Aitken Partners.
Forcing the Melbourne company to deal with the waste would “cost Victorians their jobs, and will remove one of the small shining lights in the dangerous goods industry which has been plagued by rogue operators”, the letter said.
The clean-up from the alleged dumping of chemical waste by the syndicate in 13 other warehouses in Melbourne’s northern suburbs has already cost the state government an estimated $56 million. The government is also paying to clean up after an industrial blaze at a West Footscray warehouse in August 2018, as well as at a huge stockpile buried on a property near the South Australian border.
The waste delivered to David Barry Logistics came from Bradbury’s processing facility in Campbellfield after it amassed more than three times its maximum limit. Bradbury, under EPA supervision, was barred from accepting any new material and ordered to reduce the stockpile.
Another 2 million litres were removed from an illegal storage facility Bradbury had opened nearby. While WorkSafe monitored that removal operation, it did not test the contents of the containers that were sent for storage at licensed facilities around Melbourne. David Barry Logistics took waste from Bradbury in two separate deliveries in 2018 and 2019.
The EPA only discovered the deception when it launched a new investigation after Bradbury’s Campbellfield plant was destroyed in a massive industrial blaze in early April 2019.
“We understand that at that time under the watch of the [EPA/WorkSafe] taskforce, in fact, Bradbury proceeded to foist millions of litres of [toxic waste] on various lawful operators around Melbourne, including DBL,” Mr Lean wrote.
”This industrial waste was incorrectly labelled (and may have been transported illegally). DBL should have been warned about Bradbury as soon as reasonably practicable after the taskforce was aware of these issues. It was not.”
Documents show the regulators deny responsibility for the situation even though they acknowledged in September 2019 that Bradbury had misrepresented the contents of the containers and offloaded them on unsuspecting industry players while under the supervision of WorkSafe.
An EPA spokesman said that regardless of the circumstances of how David Barry Logistics received the waste, it did not have the “necessary approvals” to store that material.
“The law is clear – the onus is on the receiver of the waste to complete these checks and David Barry Logistics can only accept material that it is licensed to receive.”
A state government spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter and said the issue at David Barry Logistics was a matter for the regulators.
Bradbury went into external administration in July 2019 with debts of $24 million, and the EPA has subsequently learnt the company was unlikely to receive an insurance payout that could help fund clean-up operations.
“At this stage, it is difficult for us to rely on the insurance companies to release the funds, so we must take action accordingly,” the EPA wrote to David Barry Logistics in November 2019.
The EPA issued its first clean-up notice to David Barry Logistics in May 2020, which the company sought to challenge in the Supreme Court. The EPA revoked the notice just before the matter was due to be heard in late August – invalidating the need for the proceeding – and then issued a new order afterwards.
The new notice claimed that inappropriate storage of the Bradbury chemicals and inadequate safety measures at David Barry Logistics was now “likely to cause an environmental hazard”.
Documents show this notice was based on observations made during an inspection by regulators and emergency services personnel in early June but not acted upon until late August.
“Even if you accepted the views in the new clean-up notice, why was nothing done for two months to inform DBL that the EPA was concerned of a new environmental risk? The timing certainly is curious,” Mr Lean told The Age.
On Wednesday, the company’s premises were again visited by the EPA, WorkSafe, Fire Rescue Victoria and council officers.
“Recent inspections of this site show there is an unacceptable risk. Our number-one priority is the safety of the community, and EPA has taken strong action to protect residents and our environment,” an EPA spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for Fire Rescue Victoria said it had an “enhanced emergency response plan in place for this site.”
A copy of WorkSafe’s latest inspection report obtained by The Age shows the dangerous goods regulator held no major concerns about the facility on Wednesday.
Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.