Authority report reveals ‘repeated failures’

A REPORT criticising the response to two faults in air quality monitoring equipment in the southern part of Morwell this month was released on Friday.

Environment Protection Authority chief executive Nial Finegan and Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley released the jointly commissioned report into the incidents on Friday.

It showed ‘repeated failures’ to notify the community and key stakeholders about the equipment malfunction and false data readings many hours after it was first identified.

Mr Finegan said the review’s recommendations acknowledged the changing role of the EPA from ambient air monitoring to an expectation of emergency support.

“What’s happening is that we are relying more and more on data streaming, and we need to be aware of that. It’s not just there for scientific purposes,” Mr Finegan said.

“There is a hugely sensitive interest in Morwell due to the geography and power plants and a greater need to have an understanding of what’s happening there.”

On the 9 March incorrect air quality readings of POOR then VERY POOR were published on the EPA website for 28 hours, failing to reflect the actual air quality at the time.

The agency again reported inaccurate information on 22 March, indicating high levels of particulate matter PM2.5 due to a ‘piece of faulty equipment’.

Actions as a result of the review are wide ranging, from replacing faulty equipment; an accountable EPA officer to be automatically notified of all poor air quality ratings to be auto-published to their website and improved engagement with the local community.

Mr Lapsley said while the incident was a “false report”, it caused significant concern in a community that had experienced a range of challenges following the prolonged fire event in the Hazelwood mine a little more than 12 months ago.

“The way they communicate their information to the community has to change,” Mr Lapsley said.

Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said the EPA had agreed to provide a hand-held portable monitor, technical support and training to its organisation.

Ms Farmer said the EPA appeared to be taking air quality monitoring and reporting seriously, but did not want one report to distract from the larger concerns about pollution monitoring and health in the Latrobe Valley.

“We still believe that the number and distribution of air quality monitoring stations in the Valley is inadequate.”

A full report of the review can be found on the EPA website.