Last updated 14 September 2020
Chapter 7, pt 8 of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (Environmental Protection Act) creates a process for identifying, recording and managing land that is affected by contaminants (i.e. natural or artificial impurities) that are likely to cause serious or material environmental harm if improperly treated, stored, disposed of or otherwise managed (i.e. land affected by hazardous contaminant). An example of a hazardous contaminant is industrial waste from a shipyard that is contaminated with heavy metals such as lead, zinc or mercury.
Schedule 3 of the Environmental Protection Act also lists certain activities that may result in land becoming contaminated by a hazardous contaminant as notifiable activities (e.g. abrasive blasting, asbestos manufacture or disposal, and tannery).
The basic obligation imposed by the contaminated land provisions in the Environmental Protection Act is that an owner or occupier of land who becomes aware that the land has been or is being contaminated with a hazardous contaminant, or on which a notifiable activity is being carried out, must notify the Department of Environment and Science.
After considering any submission made by the landowner, the department decides whether the land is contaminated by a hazardous contaminant or is being used for a notifiable activity. If either of these applies, the details of the land are entered onto the Environmental Management Register.
The department may then require a site investigation to find out the level of contamination. After the site investigation, the department may either leave the land on the register or enter the details of the land on the Contaminated Land Register, which is reserved for severely contaminated sites that must be cleaned up (remediated) to prevent serious environmental harm occurring. The public may search both registers.
Once land is entered onto one of the registers, the owner or occupier can clean it up to have the land removed from the register (this is routinely done before sale of the land). In certain cases, the department may also require remediation of the land to be carried out by the person who released the hazardous contaminant, the owner or the relevant local government.
The department may also require a site management plan to be prepared to avoid or minimise environmental harm occurring because of the hazardous contaminant. No-one may remove, treat or dispose of contaminated soil from land recorded on the registers unless authorised under a permit issued by the department.
The owner of land that is entered on either of the registers or when certain notices have been issued under the Environmental Protection Act (e.g. a notice to prepare a site management plan) must notify a person proposing to occupy the land or to purchase the land of those contaminated land issues. Failure to do so means the occupancy agreement or contract of sale may be rescinded within certain time periods.
Contaminated land and land that is potentially contaminated is also regulated through development assessment process under the Planning Act 2016 (Qld) (Planning Act). More information about contaminated land is available from the Department of Environment and Science.
Water pollution causing serious environmental harm and other specific offences for water contamination, other than pollution from ships in coastal waters, are regulated under the Environmental Protection Act.
Supporting those provisions, the Environmental Protection (Water and Wetland Biodiversity) Policy 2019 (Qld) states that the environmental values of water include biological integrity, suitability for recreational use, suitability for minimal treatment before supply as drinking water and suitability for agricultural or industrial use. Specific offences for water contamination are stated in ch 8, pt 3C of the Environmental Protection Act and include:
- depositing a prescribed water contaminant (e.g. oil) into a water, roadside gutter or storm water drainage
- release of oil and noxious liquid substances from ships into non-coastal waters
- release of sewage from boats that have a sewage holding tank (or are required by law to have such a tank) into non-coastal waters
- disposal of rubbish from boats into non-coastal waters.
Schedule 10 of the Environmental Protection Regulation 2019 (Qld) (Environmental Protection Regulation) lists prescribed contaminants (e.g. oil, paint, vehicles parts or sewage) that are prohibited from being released into waters, roadside gutters or storm water drainage.
Pollution from ships
Pollution from ships is prohibited under the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995 (Qld), the Transport Infrastructure Act 1994 (Qld) and the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 (Cth).
Complaints or reports about polluting activities should be made to Maritime Safety Queensland.
Air pollution is regulated under the Environmental Protection Act as environmental nuisance and the Environmental Protection (Air) Policy 2019 (Qld) contains detailed air quality objectives.
Unreasonable noise constitutes an environmental nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act.
The Environmental Protection Act, the Environmental Protection Regulation and the Environmental Protection (Noise) Policy 2019 (Qld) introduced a number of specific statutory provisions for noise nuisance.
Chapter 8, pt 3B of the Environmental Protection Act creates specific offences for environmental noise. These provisions specify conditions, hours of operation and noise levels for a number of activities such as:
- building works—not to be conducted on a Sunday or public holiday, or before 6.30 am or after 6.30 pm on any other day
- lawn mowers or leaf blowers—not to be used before 8 am or after 7 pm on a Sunday or public holiday, or before 7 am or after 7 pm on any other day
- refrigeration plant—not to be operated before 7 am or after 10 pm if the noise emitted exceeds 3 dB(A) above the background levels
- indoor venues—not to create audible noise from midnight to 7 am on any day; specified limits apply for other times
- open-air events—not to create audible noise before 7 am, from 7 am to 10 pm if the noise emitted exceeds 70 dB(A) or after 10 pm if the noise exceeds 50 dB(A) or is 10 dB(A) above the background noise
- amplified devices—not to be used on a day other than a business day before 8 am or after 6 pm and before 7 am or after 10 pm on a business day
- swimming pool pumps—not to be used before 7 am or after 10 pm if the pump emits an audible noise. Exceptions apply to school pools. Limits of 5 dB(A) apply between 7 am and 7 pm, and 3 db(A) between 7 pm and 10 pm on any day.
The Environmental Protection Act provides a series of low-level offences for noise, dust, odour, fumes, ash, light and smoke nuisances. Not all nuisances will be covered, and there are specified exemptions.
For example, noise coming from music and parties continues to be governed by the Queensland Police Service.
For more information on neighbourhood nuisance problems see the Neighbourhood Disputes chapter.
The Environmental Protection Act has also been used extensively to impose sediment and erosion controls on building sites. It requires all reasonable and practicable measures (e.g. sediment fencing and sediment basins) to be taken to prevent sediment moving into gutters, storm water drains and natural watercourses.
On-the-spot fines (penalty infringement notices) may be issued for failing to install proper sediment control measures.
Many local governments now require storm water management mechanisms (e.g. construction of artificial wetlands) as part of the development approval process under the Planning Act for new housing estates and other development.
While technically the Environmental Protection Act applies to agricultural activities, it is generally not used to control soil erosion from farms. The Soil Conservation Act 1986 (Qld) provides a little-used framework for the management of soil erosion from agricultural land. Individual farms may voluntarily enter property management plans to provide for soil conservation, while project areas may be declared to manage soil erosion in a specified area.
The Environmental Protection Act defines waste as anything that is left over, an unwanted by-product from an industrial, commercial, domestic or other activity, or that is surplus to the industrial, commercial, domestic or other activity generating the waste (s 13). Waste may be valuable and can be a gas, liquid, solid or energy, or a combination of any of these.
Waste management in Queensland is regulated under the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 (Qld) (WRR Act) and uses multiple strategies, concentrating on minimising waste as the first option through to recycling and waste disposal as the final option. The types of waste managed by the WRR Act include litter, domestic waste, industrial waste, medical waste and hazardous waste.
The WRR Act provides offences for littering (s 104), waste dumping (s 105) and related matters. For more information about waste and to report a personally witnessed littering or illegal dumping incident see the Department of Environment and Science website.
At a state level, the Environmental Protection Act distinguishes between two broad types of waste: general waste and regulated waste.
General waste, such as normal household rubbish and garden clippings, is disposed of through normal waste collection services (e.g. a council rubbish truck), unless it is diverted into a recycling program.
Schedule 9 contains a long list of substances including abattoir effluent, acids and acid solutions, arsenic, asbestos, lead and tyres.
Commercially transporting regulated waste (of any amount) or transporting quantities of regulated waste of more than a certain quantity is an environmentally relevant activity and requires assessment and approval under the Environmental Protection Act.
Operating a facility for receiving and storing more than 500 tyres or other regulated waste, or for receiving and treating regulated wastes (subject to stated limited exceptions) are environmentally relevant activities. These activities require approval under the Environmental Protection Act and the Sustainable Planning Act and compliance with any conditions of an approval.
The Radiation Safety Act 1999 (Qld) deals with radioactive waste. It does not contain any provisions about the disposal of waste but regulates the possession, use, sale or transport of radioactive substances. The Radiation Safety Regulation 2010 (Qld) deals, amongst other things, with disposal of radioactive waste.
International trade in hazardous waste both into and out of Queensland is regulated under the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989 (Cth). This Act provides that the import or export of waste must be made under a permit issued by the Commonwealth and provides for large penalties for contravention of the Act, particularly when a party knowingly or recklessly trades in hazardous waste without a permit.
Ozone is an atmospheric gas that is critical in reducing ultraviolet light reaching earth.
The Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 (Cth) provides a national system of licences and quotas to control the manufacture, use, import, export, recycling and disposal of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons.
National pollutant inventory
The National Environment Protection Council Act 1994 (Cth) is the Commonwealth limb of reciprocal legislation with all states and territories to establish the National Environment Protection Council. The council’s principal function is to establish National Environment Protection Measures, which set national objectives for protecting or managing particular aspects of the environment.
These measures have already been made for ambient air quality, the National Pollutant Inventory, movement of controlled waste, used packaging materials, assessment of site contamination, diesel vehicle emissions and air toxics.
In Queensland, ch 7 (National Pollutant Inventory) of the Environmental Protection Regulation imposes requirements for certain industries and facilities to report their emissions to the National Pollutant Inventory, which is a nationwide online database on pollution emissions.