Read the full article by Nick Bielby and Donna Page

“MILLIONS of litres of toxic waste collected from across Australia has been secretly pumped into creeks or dumped on the ground over decades by a Maitland waste-oil refinery company.

Newcastle Herald investigation can reveal that Truegain Pty Ltd, also known as Australian Waste Oil Refineries (AWOR), pumped vast quantities of a chemical cocktail polluting creeks that run to the Hunter River…

Truegain was also dumping the notorious contaminant per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] into Maitland’s sewer and the toxic firefighting chemicals – at the heart of the Williamtown’s ‘red zone’ environmental scandal – have been detected in extremely high levels in a creek behind the refinery.

As the effort continues to contain the heavily contaminated site, dozens of former workers have told how the company would routinely use its Rutherford plant and surrounding waterways as a dumping ground for waste collected from across NSW, Canberra and Victoria – though one former company director the Herald was able to reach denied the claims.

Former workers, who described the operation as ‘ultra shonky’, said rather than treat all the waste brought to the Kyle Street refinery, Truegain would dump products it had collected from industrial yards, airports, service stations, mines and car washes, especially if the plant was nearing capacity.

Dirty, frothy, caustic-smelling or oily liquid waste would be flushed down drains or pumped to nearby Stony Creek…

Large hoses would be connected to storage tanks and liquid pumped down a stormwater drain on Maitland City Council land along the eastern boundary of the property, or from storage tanks at the rear of the plant: all to avoid the cost of paying for ‘expensive’ treatment chemicals and to give the appearance that the company was meeting limits for discharge into Maitland’s sewer system.

As a result, a huge quantity of prohibited chemicals made their way into Stony Creek that leads to the Hunter River.

To avoid detection, Truegain took advantage of its 24-hour operating licence, flushing at night, and during times of heavy rain.

Philip Towers, who worked at the refinery for more than a decade and refused to have anything to do with the illegal dumping, said the pollution of waterways around the plant was ‘no accident’.

‘It was deliberately done, all to save money,’ he said. ‘I remember 160,000 litres of dirty water went missing one weekend. When I left on Friday it was there and when I came back on Monday it was gone.’ …

Barry Grant, one of more than 35 former workers who spoke to the Herald, spent 12 years at the refinery and said workers didn’t speak out because they couldn’t afford to lose their jobs and didn’t want to be responsible for their co-workers ending up unemployed…

According to a former supervisor, the company would fool inspectors by pouring milk into storage tanks so it looked like chemicals were being added as part of a treatment process…

In 2016, Truegain was caught by Hunter Water releasing toxic firefighting foam chemicals, or PFAS, into the sewer.

The company pleaded ignorance, telling authorities it was not engaged to treat the contaminant and was unaware PFAS was within liquid sent to the refinery for treatment.

But documents obtained by The Herald under freedom of information laws reveal a stunning admission from a relatively junior staff member whose account stands at odds with the company’s.

The worker told a Hunter Water compliance officer, before PFAS was detected at the site, he believed foam build-up on tanks at the refinery was caused by groundwater Truegain had been collecting ‘on and off for quite a while’ that was contaminated with ‘fire retardant’.

The revelation triggered Hunter Water’s investigation that found PFAS levels at the refinery ‘not dissimilar to the extremely high concentrations detected in parts of the Williamtown investigation area’, according to the authority’s then interim chief executive, Jeremy Bath.”