Protection of public health is always the primary consideration in operating a wastewater treatment facility.
Under the Beachwatch program, monitoring of Newcastle's beaches occurs every 6 days. The locations near the Burwood Beach WWTW are sampled every 3 days during the bathing season (1 October to 30 April each year). There is also a Beachwatch forecast for stormwater pollution issued for Hunter beaches every morning based on local rainfall data. Beachwatch data indicates that Newcastle's beaches are amongst the cleanest in NSW. Water quality is usually rated as "Good" or "Very Good".
Details of beach quality conditions can be found at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/beach/ar0910/hunter.htm
Marine Environment Assessment Program
As well as protecting public health, Hunter Water has a responsibility to protect the environment. The Marine Environment Assessment Program (MEAP), which commenced two and a half years ago has now been completed. The MEAP investigated how releasing effluent and biosolids affects the ocean water quality, marine ecosystems and the potential to affect public health.
The MEAP was designed with assistance from the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), the NSW Department of Health and the NSW Food Authority.
The MEAP studies confirmed that the area around the ocean outfall is a highly dynamic environment. Natural ocean currents and heavy seas generally limit water quality changes to approximately 500 metres from the outfall area. Changes to ecological conditions on the ocean floor are localised with no large-scale or regional effects being observed. Effects were subtle, with changes being readily detectable up to 20 metres from the ocean outfall.
While levels of pesticides and metals in fish and oysters did not exceed recommended levels, some microbiological contamination of a small number of fish was found. This was referred to the NSW Food Authority. The Authority advised that the levels were not unusual near ocean outfalls around Australia and any risk to human health was low and appropriately mitigated by cooking fish before consuming. Hunter Water regularly publishes Fishing Safety Notices to remind people not to fish around ocean outfalls and to always cook their catch. The Burwood Beach WWTW will be further upgraded in 2016 to disinfect the secondary treatment effluent before its release to further reduce any risk to human health.
The MEAP reports are available here. For ease of download the report has been broken down into nine sections and a summary:
If you have any questions about the MEAP or would like more information please email or call Hunter Water during business hours on 1300 657 657.
Health Risk Assessment
A health risk assessment was completed in 2010 which confirmed there are negligible health impacts from biosolids released from Burwood Beach WWTW. However, the assessment indicated that there is a small risk that the effluent plume from Burwood Beach WWTW could be driven back to the coast under certain combinations of wind and current. These results were consistent with Beachwatch data, which for more than a decade, has shown that Newcastle's beaches are among the cleanest in NSW.
Hunter Water is progressing with the installation of a disinfection system to treat effluent at the plant in 2016 to further ensure protection of public health.
The Health Risk Assessment report is available here. For ease of download the report has been broken down into seven sections and a summary:
Burwood Beach - Clean Beach Award
Hunter Water received a Highly Commended Water Conservation Award at the Keep Australia Beautiful Hunter Region Clean Beach Awards in December 2011. Hunter Water was recognised for delivering water quality improvements through previous upgrade works at the Burwood Beach wastewater treatment plant and for engaging with the community and stakeholders in planning future upgrades for the plant.