City News

Metro contractor fined for polluting Sydney Harbour

Concept art for the Central Metro station development. Photo: NSW Government


A construction company contracted by the NSW Government to work on the Sydney Metro Project at Central Station has been fined for allegedly dumping contaminated wastewater into Sydney’s harbour.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) fined Laing O’Rourke Australia Construction $15,000 for releasing low pH water from a water treatment facility into Blackwattle Bay.

In 2018, Laing O’Rourke, the construction company behind the Wynyard station upgrades, was granted the $955 million contract for the construction of the new Metro platforms under Central station. The contract also included building Central Walk, a 19-metre wide underground pedestrian concourse from Chalmers Street in Surry Hills.

Upon the announcement of the contract being awarded, Managing Director of Laing O’Rourke, Cathal O’Rourke, said the company has a “strong track record” in delivering transport projects and has “assembled a team who will deliver a world-class result for the NSW Government”.

The fine dished out to Laing O’Rourke was in relation to an incident on the 19th of March 2020 when over 6,000 litres of liquid from a water treatment facility associated with the construction work was discharged into Blackwattle Bay. 

The wastewater had a pH of 1.09, making it highly acidic. The low pH level of the liquid dumped into the bay was caused by sulphuric acid used in the water treatment process.

Laing O’Rourke holds an Environmental Protection licence to release water into the harbour, however the pH level of the water which was dumped was well outside the limits of 6.5-8.5 permitted by the licence.

The company did not inform the EPA about what had happened until five days later. Water sampling the company carried out between the 26th and 31st of March did not identify any environmental harm.

Although a sub-contractor operates the water treatment plant on behalf of Laing O’Rourke, as the holder of the Environmental Protection licence, the company is responsible for any breaches. But that wasn’t the last of the damage done by Laing O’Rourke, EPA Director Regulatory Operations James Goodwin alleges another incident occurred just a few months later.

“There was a subsequent, alleged incident on 8 June 2020, when approximately 18,000 litres of water with a pH of 5.9 to 6.15 was discharged from the water treatment plant, this time onto land within the construction site,” Mr. Goodwin said.

The EPA says following the incidents Laing O’Rourke Australia has “undertaken a range of steps to upgrade its systems” to prevent unauthorised liquids leaching into the bay. Should any spills occur, the company must notify the EPA in a timely fashion.

Sydney’s harbour is one of the most polluted waterways in Australia, with around 15 Olympic-size swimming pools of pollutants entering the water each year, according to the Sydney Harbour Research Program. 

The Central Walk and Central Station Metro upgrade is expected to be completed in 2022.

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