Spotless in court over contamination


In a landmark dispute, the developer of an inner Melbourne apartment building, Premier Building and Consulting (PBC), is suing 10 defendants, including Spotless Group, one of Australia’s largest cleaning companies, for an estimated $12 million over alleged contamination of the site, reported The Australian (10/10/2006, p.19).

Dry cleaner next door 20 years: PBC claims a dry-cleaning business run by Spotless for more than 20 years contaminated the site at 227 Barkly St, Brunswick, on which it built 49 new apartments. Moreland Council issued a planning permit to PBC on April 24, 2001.

Environment audit blocks occupancy: But on completion in June 2003, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) advised the council to withhold an occupancy permit after an environment audit revealed the apartments had been built on contaminated soil and posed a health risk.

Clean-up estimated at $6m: A building and environment industry source estimates the cost of cleaning up the site and making it safe for residential occupancy at $6 million."That’s before the cost of refurbishing the apartments is even taken into account," he says.

50 similar operations nationwide: Spotless is understood to have operated about 50 dry-cleaning sites around the country, and if similar clean-up costs were incurred at every one, the company could be out of pocket by as much as $300 million, the source said.

Seepage traced to laundry site: A Canadian expert in hydrogeology, Professor Bernard Cooper, has told the Victorian Supreme Court the problems caused below the ground at the site are a direct result of Spotless operations above the ground. PBC alleges that seepage from the site at 225 Barkly Street contaminated the soil next door at 227.

Spotless’ record recounted: The case is expected to run for 10 weeks before Justice David Byrne. Counsel for PBC, Julian Burnside QC, has told the court that "for many years Spotless carried on business as dry cleaners and launderers at 225 Barkly Street" and "for a time" the company also conducted dry-cleaning operations at 227-231.

Firm adopted PCE solvent: In the late 1970s, a new machine which used "not white spirit for dry cleaning but perchloroethene (PCE), which is the chlorinated hydrocarbon solvent", had been introduced into the dry-cleaning process. "Dry cleaning for years had used white spirit until PCE supplanted it as the solvent of choice," Mr Burnside said.

Fluid in underground tanks: The court heard the property at 225 Barkly Street had large underground storage tanks for containing white spirit and white spirit waste. "By October 1966 there were 130 employees engaged in dry cleaning at 225 Barkly street," Mr Burnside said. "So it was a big operation."

The Australian, 10/10/2006, p. 19

Source: Erisk Net  

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