A truckie who drove away from a spill of sulphuric acid in Geelong has been fined almost $150,000 by the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA).
Wallan man Charles Roy Johnson was prosecuted over the October 2018 spill of over 1,000 litres of sulphuric acid into a roadside drain on Madden Avenue, North Shore.
The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court heard that Johnson had pulled over to fix a problem with his windscreen wipers, then smoked a cigarette before continuing on his way, but did not notice that the load of acid was steadily leaking into a roadside drain.
One kilometre later, a passing motorist flagged him down to warn him of the leak. Johnson closed the seals on the tanker and stopped the leak, but then drove on without returning to the spill in Madden Avenue, raising the alarm or taking any action to contain the hazardous liquid.
The court was told that while Johnson had 20 years’ experience in hauling dangerous goods, and had been trained to deal with spills, the task of dealing with the hazardous spill was too often left to others.
In court, Johnson pleaded guilty to charges under the Environment Protection Act 1970 of:
• Causing or permitting an environmental hazard;
• Dumping, discarding or abandoning industrial waste;
• Leaving waste in a position where it could gain access to water; and
• Pollution of land.
Johnson was convicted and fined $50,000 and ordered to pay $94,855.61 in compensation to the Greater Geelong City Council for the clean-up and $3,400 in costs.
In imposing the sentence, Magistrate Capell said the incident posed a significant risk of harm to other persons and the environment. He said the strong sentence was necessary to send a message to others in the industry that this sort of behaviour cannot be tolerated.
After the court handed down its decision, EPA South West Regional Manager Carolyn Francis remarked on the considerable work that went into responding to the spill and investigating the cause.
“The City of Greater Geelong was quick to respond, containing the spill and removing the acid for safe disposal,” Francis said.
“Sitting in a roadside drain, the sulphuric acid was a hazard to the community and would have been washed straight into the bay by the next rain, which could have caused significant environmental damage,” she said.
The EPA officers investigating the spill also faced a challenging task.
“Our Environment Protection Officers were presented with a hazardous substance that was clearly from an industrial source, but no signs as to how it came to be there, soaking into the soil in a roadside drain,” Francis said.
“They found witnesses, traced the origin of the acid, and tracked down the person responsible, then undertook the detailed legal process of preparing for a prosecution in court,” she said.
“The end result is that the duty holder has been held to account, the Council is to be repaid for its thorough clean-up of a hazardous chemical, and a clear message has been sent that pollution must be taken seriously.
“EPA will not hesitate to investigate and prosecute to protect the community and the environment,” Francis said.