What is pollution?
Pollution is the introduction of substances into water, land or the atmosphere that has a negative effect on their natural condition, or is harmful to the health or welfare of humans. Water pollution can occur through overflows, discharges or spills of substances such as oil, chemicals or sewage. Pollution can come from non-point or point sources. Non-point source pollution has widely dispersed sources that are difficult to identify, such as oil from cars, leaking septic systems and stormwater. Point-source pollution can be attributed to specific locations, for example from a factory or broken pipe.
Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) sets and enforces standards for regulating levels of emission, discharge and deposit to the environment. Causing pollution above these levels is an offence.
What are some types of pollution and impacts?
Sediment plume. Kananook Creek. Image source: Parks Victoria
Soil washed into waterways can smother aquatic habitat, clog fish gills, smother plants and reduce light penetration in the water. Without light, aquatic plants cannot survive.
Runoff from agricultural land can carry large amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can cause algal blooms in waterways which in turn can remove oxygen from the water.
Oil spills can result in serious environmental harm and can impact communities that are reliant on the ocean for food, the fishing industry and tourism. Bird feathers and the fur of marine mammals become smothered in oil affecting their ability to adapt to temperature fluctuations and restricting their movement and ability to avoid predators. If oil is ingested there can be fatal impacts.
Some heavy metals, such as copper, zinc, and chromium, are required in small doses by plants and animals, but are toxic in high concentrations. Other chemical compounds absorb the oxygen present in the water which in turn affects the ability of most aquatic species to survive.
Pesticides and herbicides
These are designed to kill pests and weeds and are applied to farmland and domestic gardens. However, these compounds can move from their original place of application via stormwater runoff or airborne drift and enter waterways. Once there, they can be toxic to aquatic organisms.
The organic matter present in sewage can reduce the amount of oxygen in the water, which makes it very difficult for most aquatic species to survive. There are also health implications to humans due to high levels of bacteria and other pathogens. Typical illnesses associated with sewage contaminated water are gastro-enteritis and hepatitis, and open cuts can become infected or rashes can occur.
How is it being managed?
Actions to improve our environment
Agricultural land runoff: The Victorian Government, Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) and local councils each have roles and responsibilities that relate, directly or indirectly, to farm waste issues.
In Victoria, a person must hold a valid Agricultural Chemical User Permit (ACUP), or be working under the direct and immediate supervision of an ACUP holder to use an agricultural chemical product.
For information on waste management on farms in Victoria phone EPA on 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842).
Oil spills - The Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre (AMOSC) is an organisation set up by the petroleum industry to enable a quick and effective response to oil spills. Their role is to provide:
- oil spill training services at the training centre in Geelong
- equipment and personnel on 24 hour standby basis, to respond to a major oil spill
- administrative support of the oil industry mutual aid arrangements
- advice on oil spill equipment and issues as required
- AMOSC and oil industry spill response resources to the National Plan.
Oil spill response in Australian territorial waters is coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
Chemical spills - If a spill occurs in marine waters, Vic Plan is activated and a response is initiated to confirm the size and severity of the incident and determine the most appropriate action.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is responsible for coordinating the response to wildlife impacted by marine pollution, including oil or chemical spills, under the Wildlife Response Plan for Marine Pollution Emergencies.
Sewage spills – Sewage spills into our waterways are rare, and usually only happen after very heavy rainfall. For more information contact your local water authority or phone EPA on 1300 EPA VIC (1300 372 842).
To help keep Victorians informed, alerts on significant pollution events will be issued on this website.
Through strong environmental partnerships the Victorian government aims to encourage a new sense of environmental citizenship, where individuals, communities, businesses and other organisations take a more active and shared responsibility in efforts to support our environment.
What you can do to protect our waterways
At a personal level your contribution can make a difference, for example:
Do not dispose of chemicals around your home and work into drains. For more information on how to dispose of household chemicals safely refer to Sustainability Victoria’s
- Manage your waste from your farm in a way that does not adversely affect the environment, amenity or health. Further, ensure that waste does not adversely affect commercial agricultural production on neighbouring farms.
- Refer to DEPI website for information on farming obligations or implications.
- There are many organisations and groups involved in maintaining the water quality of the Yarra and the Bay. If you are interested in knowing more about how you can get involved, go to the How you can help page on this website.
Report pollution to EPA providing information that includes: the time of the event, location of the event, whether you’ve seen it first hand. Call the Pollution Hotline on 1300 EPA VIC.