Importance of Transparency when Preparaing an EIS

Richard Benbow
Importance of Transparency when Preparaing an EIS


Within NSW, the need for designated developments is quite common. Designated developments require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be prepared and, although this may seem to be a daunting process for the developer, Benbow Environmental has over 30 years’ experience in either contributing to EIS’s or preparing the full document with expert input on matters such as planning, transport and water issues.

It is rare for any of our EIS’s to need to be determined in the Land and Environment Court. It is rare for there to be strong community action against a development that has survived the rigour of the EIS process that Benbow Environmental undertakes.

Success in gaining approvals depends on many factors. We consider transparency in dealing with the potential amenity impacts on residents as a critical factor.

During the one on one consultative programme, transparency allows issues to be raised with residents and, using a balance of need for the project and need to protect residents’ amenity, a fair and reasonable outcome results.

EIS’s in NSW require addressing many issues. Two issues of great significance for the future are inter-generational integrity and precautionary principle.

The following are examples of the BE approach from an EIS prepared for a major asbestos related remediation project.

The Principle of Inter-Generational Equity is relevant since, if remediation is not undertaken by the generation who, for whatever reason, allowed the contamination to occur, then a future generation will be caused to undertake the Remediation Project.

In developed countries worldwide, the need to undertake removal of asbestos wastes is recognised. The number of past industrial sites that have deposited thousands of cubic metres of asbestos wastes onto their sites is an indictment on the lack of environmental controls that existed pre 1970’s. The volumes of asbestos waste that will need to be removed and placed into smaller concentrated sterilised areas such as landfills or containment cells is in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes.

The Remediation Project offers a unique solution by allowing the asbestos contamination to be safely removed and sterilised under the ground in concrete cells on smaller areas of land that do not need future disturbance. This solution allows the economic value of the contaminated land to pay for the remediation, remove a long term hazard and enable land to be returned to use by the community.

Provided this principle can be supported by satisfying the Precautionary Principle, then the proposed development is justifiable.

The key to making these two principles work in concert together has been gleaned from the consultation program that was undertaken. A very strong support for adopting this approach was the only way to justify the proposed development came from the preliminary consultation with the community. Even though this was not extensively attended, attendees provided the direction to proceed to win community support – the “zero harm” objective.

It is for this reason that significant further safeguards were added to the layers of protection required for the Remediation Project. These are far more extensive than what was found necessary by the US Super Fund Project researched for the preparation of the Asbestos Safe Work Method Statement.

Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle applies to the proposed development as the land is currently sterilised for future benefit to the community due to the past practices of waste disposal on a site converted from previous residential use to industrial.

The site fulfills the community perception of a “waste land” and is unable to be used in its current seriously deteriorated form.

The precautionary principle applies to the proposed development as there is a risk to human health if the remediation works proceed.

There is a risk to human health from the presence of a large quantity of asbestos containing material beneath the surface of the site.

There is an ongoing risk of release of asbestos containing materials into the shallow waters along the edge of the bank adjoining the site as fragments and pieces of asbestos containing materials are present. Sediment along the bank will gradually become more contaminated with asbestos dust and debris and at a point in time, a clean-up will be needed at which stage the risk of causing harm to the community and the environment would need to be addressed.

The risk of harm has been assessed in considerable detail. As outlined throughout the EIS and as documented in specialist reports provided in the Appendices to the EIS a “zero harm” objective has been set for the Remediation Project. This objective was reasoned to be the only justifiable option and equates to using methods of asbestos dust and fibre control based on lessons learnt on similar projects and then add several other layers of protection against harm occurring.

The preliminary hazard analysis and the environmental risk assessment use the protection against a hazard arising through a layered approach of protection.

The layers relate to personnel, to functional equipment that prevents generation of asbestos dust and fibre release, to a detailed multi focused air monitoring program commencing with a pilot program to evaluate the layers of protection before the remediation program proceeds to its fullest extent.

There is the potential for weaknesses to arise in a project of this nature. These weaknesses could arise from soft assumptions undertaken in evaluating how hazards arise and asbestos dust and fibres could be generated and released.

These weaknesses could arise from simply relying on the dust control methods used in the overseas projects of a similar nature that were found.

These weaknesses could arise from inadequacies in the training / awareness of the different levels of operations and management at this site.

A failure to provide ongoing feedback to the work force and the community could lead to lapses in diligence and accountability.

All these factors were considered in the preparation of the documents which will establish the work procedures, the level of preparedness of the team on-site and the independent auditing experts who will measure the level of the effectiveness of the way the Remediation Project is undertaken and report the findings so these are readily accessible to the workforce on-site and the community.

This is how transparency benefits a project.

If you require more information on the preparation of Environmental Impact Statements, please contact or telephone 1800 635 509.