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Environmental Service Group

Former Waratah Gasworks site

Waratah Gasworks

Background

The former Waratah Gasworks is understood to have operated on land bounded by Ellis, Turton and Georgetown roads, Waratah, from 1889 to 1926.

The NSW Government did not operate the gasworks, nor was it responsible for the contamination. However, in 2019 the NSW Government advised affected residents it would help manage the remediation process and work with landholders to clarify the options for remediation.

The initial stage of NSW Government involvement consisted of the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) carrying out legal investigations into where the financial liability for the remediation work lay. This stage was to ensure, where possible, private industry would be held responsible for the pollution. Property and Development NSW (PDNSW) was unable to progress the remedial works while these legal investigations were underway.

While legal advice to date has not conclusively identified a liable party that can be held responsible for covering the cost of the remediation, PDNSW is now working to resolve the contamination issue.

About the project

In September 2021, the EPA advised owners and occupiers of impacted properties associated with the Former Waratah Gasworks site in Newcastle of their intention to declare these properties as significantly contaminated land under the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997.

At the same time, the EPA issued PDNSW with a Management Order to develop a Remediation Action Plan addressing the contamination issue.

PDNSW has commenced the works required under the Management Order, including development of a remedial action plan (RAP) and engagement of a site auditor to undertake an independent review of the RAP.

Implementation will occur in close consultation with all stakeholders, including residents and landholders within and adjacent to the area subject to the declaration, the NSW EPA and Newcastle City Council.

Key milestones

For more information, download and view the Key milestones (PDF, 187.54 KB).

Next steps

  • Community and stakeholder consultation
  • Remediation Action Plan

Frequently asked questions

What is the historical Waratah Gasworks site and where is it located?

The former Waratah Gasworks is located on residential land bound by Ellis, Turton and Georgetown roads in the Newcastle suburb of Waratah.

In 2019, the NSW Government received advice from the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) that a former gasworks may have operated in Waratah. Due to the historical nature of this gasworks, department records contained little information but historical evidence confirmed that a gasworks operated at the site from 1889 to 1926.

The former gasworks was constructed in 1889 by Waratah Municipal Council and was decommissioned around 1928. The site was originally Crown Land (owned by the NSW Government).

Waratah Municipal Council merged with the Council of Greater Newcastle in 1938 and consistent with practices of the time, Council and Government records of the gasworks were extremely limited (if any).

The gasworks site was not known to either the State or Local Government, nor was it included in the list of locations of known gasworks sites maintained by the EPA. The site was brought to the EPA’s attention in 2016 via a public enquiry in relation to an historic map showing a small gasworks in the area.

What types of wastes and by-products are associated with old gasworks sites?

Substances associated with former gasworks sites typically include tars, oils, hydrocarbon sludges, spent oxides (including complex cyanides), ash and ammoniacal recovery wastes. Additional information on the types of wastes and by-products associated with former gasworks sites can be found on the EPA website.

Many of the wastes and by-products produced from gasworks were recycled or reused. However, it was common for some to be buried on or near gasworks sites, for instance in underground tar wells, liquor wells, pipes and purifier beds. At the former Waratah Gasworks, not all this infrastructure was removed when the site was decommissioned prior to the land being redeveloped and sold as residential properties.

Does the site require remediation and who will manage the work?

The City of Newcastle (Council) originally undertook an investigation of the site, including engaging an independent environmental consultant to undertake an environmental investigation from late-2016 until late-2017. Owing to the historical use of the area as a gasworks, the eastern portion of the site was found to have concentrations of gasworks-related substances above screening criteria and background concentrations. Specifically, the investigation identified the need to remediate 13 properties within the former Waratah Gasworks footprint, to minimise residents’ potential exposure to gasworks-related substances. Findings from the investigation are available on Council’s website.

The initial stage of the remedial process included legal investigations, undertaken by EPA in 2019 and 2020, into where the financial liability for the remediation work lay to ensure that where possible, private industry was held responsible for the pollution. While this was occurring, remedial works could not progress.

Legal investigations undertaken by the EPA were unable to conclusively identify a liable party that could be held responsible for covering the cost of the remediation. In the absence of an alternative option to ensure the remedial works are completed, the NSW Government has confirmed it will manage the remediation.  Property & Development NSW (PDNSW) is the government agency responsible for ensuring the remediation process is completed.

In September 2021 the EPA declared the eastern section of the site as Significantly Contaminated Land under the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 due to gasworks contamination and issued a Management Order to PDNSW under the Act to manage remediation of the site.

Although the gasworks was not operated by State Government, nor was the State responsible for the contamination, the Government identified PDNSW as the most appropriate authority to manage the contaminated site and work with the affected landholders to clarify options for remediation.

How and when will the site be remediated?

Due to the time that has passed since the gasworks operated, and the scarcity of records, PDNSW is currently reviewing the Council’s investigations and working with the EPA to determine next steps regarding the management of remediating the site.

Initial steps will include developing a Remedial Action Plan (RAP) which will be reviewed by an independent auditor. The findings of the RAP and any additional testing required by the auditor will inform the available remediation options.

While final timeframes for the delivery of works are still to be determined, PDNSW will commence an active remediation program in 2022 that will resolve the contamination issue once and for all.

Who is being consulted about the remediation?

PDNSW is committed to keeping all stakeholders including residents, landholders, the EPA, NSW Health and Council up to date as investigations progress.

The Government’s priority is the affected residents and their concerns and PDNSW will consult directly with landholders about possible options for remediation and management measures prior to undertaking any remediation work.

Are there any health risks associated with the site?

The eastern portion of the site has been found to have concentrations of gasworks-related substances above screening criteria and background concentrations.

In 2016 the Council consulted with Hunter New England Local Health District (NSW Health) and the EPA to provide precautionary advice to affected landholders regarding health and environmental concerns.

This advice remains in place for residents in the area until further action has been carried out. Residents on the affected 13 properties should:

  • not eat any vegetables grown or eggs laid by hens on the property.
  • avoid having areas of bare soil by maintaining a grass cover or other structural covering   over the areas.
  • reduce exposure to soil during gardening activities by minimising dust generation, wearing gloves and washing hands after handling soil.
  • only allow children to play in sandpits or soil in raised beds or structures above the natural ground level which contain sand or soil that has not been sourced from onsite.

The health and safety of residents is the Government’s priority and PDNSW will work with NSW Health throughout this process to make sure that any health-related risks are considered and mitigated in future remediation plans.

Could there be potential health effects for residents, due to past exposure, and what are they?

The original investigation undertaken by Council confirmed the main pathway for potential exposure to gasworks substances was through direct contact with shallow soil. Due to most affected properties having significant coverage from dwellings, driveways, paved areas and lawn, the potential for exposure is limited, but possible. If direct exposure were to occur frequently, over many years, there may be the potential for adverse health effects to occur.

Who do I contact for more information?

The PDNSW website will be kept up to date as investigations progress and consultation occurs, and questions can be emailed to community.property@dpie.nsw.gov.au or call the community hotline on 1300 208 501.

Landholders and residents will be regularly contacted directly.

For more information about related matters, please see contact details below:

  • Specific health advice: Your General Practitioner
  • General health information: Hunter New England Local Health District on 1300 066 055
  • Other contamination information: NSW EPA Environment Line on 13 15 55.

For further information, please contact us at
community.property@dpie.nsw.gov.au