The clean-up of thousands of tiny plastic beads, known as nurdles, has extended to Port Fairy’s East Beach from Warrnambool’s Shelly Beach.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is investigating the source of the nurdles, while Wannon Water has said the plastic was illegally disposed of through its sewage treatment system, which releases treated water into the ocean near Shelly Beach.
Wannon Water said it believed the nurdles entered the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant late last week.
The authority’s service delivery general manager Ian Bail said the general licence conditions Wannon Water operates the plant under “include the prevention of discharge of plastics and other foreign material”.
“This is one of the reasons we have screening facilities in place at the sewage treatment plant,” he said.
In September plastic cotton buds washed up on Shelly Beach, however, Wannon Water maintains they did not get through the plant.
“The plant treats sewage and trade waste from Warrnambool, Allansford and Koroit and has multiple systems in place, including fine screens, to filter out the huge majority of plastics and other foreign material such as cotton buds,” Mr Bail said.
EPA officers visited the plant on Wednesday and south west region manager Carolyn Francis has said if Wannon Water was found to have breached the EPA licence it operates the plant under, it could face fines.
Over the past few days, volunteers including school kids and workers from both Moyne Shire Council and Warrnambool City Council have collected thousands of nurdles from beaches.
Warrnambool resident Colleen Hughson set up a Facebook page to coordinate clean-up efforts, and Wannon Water said it trialled using a mechanical beach cleaner to pick nurdles up on Thursday.
Deakin University researcher Dr Trish Corbett said nurdles were melted down to make other plastic products.
“If we didn’t clean them up, they look like little fish eggs so they can be ingested by all kinds of marine animals and end up continuing in the food chain and cause massive problems,” she said.
Anyone collecting nurdles is advised to drop them off at Warrnambool City Council so they can form part of a Deakin University study.