EPA investigation underway

The Environment Protection Authority is collecting witness statements from some mine operators as part of ongoing investigations following the Hazelwood mine fire.

The EPA is investigating air pollution and environmental hazards caused by the fire and any potential breaches of the Environment Protection Act by mine operator GDF SUEZ.

EPA Gippsland interim regional manager Chris Buckingham said the investigation involved an inspection of the mine, but also interviewing a small number of witnesses able to provide information.

“We’re talking to people who would have an understanding of what happened in the mine at the time (of the mine fire), and post (mine fire),” Mr Buckingham said.

He said the EPA was not asking members of the community to come forward, but wanted to make people aware of the investigation considering interviews would be conducted.

“What we know is that we had a significant air pollution event and we’re pursing witness statements and gathering a chain of evidence,” Mr Buckingham said.

He said the investigation would also consider findings of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report.

“The primary driver for this investigation is an air pollution event, but findings in the inquiry’s report provided us with an impetus,” Mr Buckingham said.

He said he would not speculate potential penalties against GDF SUEZ as it was too early to predict the outcome of investigations.

EPA chief executive Nial Finegan said it was important the community was informed about what the authority was doing and why they were approaching people at this time.

He said the Hazelwood mine fire was an unprecedented event that had a prolonged impact on air quality on the community.

“In addition to our investigation, EPA will continue to undertake ongoing inspections at the site to ensure any environmental issues that may arise are dealt with,” Mr Finegan said.

“The EPA is absolutely committed to regularly meeting and working with the community, council and other stakeholders to ensure that the results of ongoing air monitoring are widely available and understood.”

GDF SUEZ was contacted for comment, but did not return calls before going to print.