Sleepless in Botany: The residents point a finger at port-related activity. Photo: Damian Shaw
After more than a year of residents around Port Botany being told the night time noises they were complaining about did not exceed “sleep disturbance criteria”, the Environment Protection Authority has admitted they were right. The EPA said last week it had made a mistake in its analysis of data taken in July last year, and the noise from port-related activities had exceeded the sleep disturbance criteria – twice. The residents have been complaining for years about the substantial increase in noise levels. They say much of the noise arises from containers being moved, truck horns being blown and the beeping of reversing forklifts. “Another night of beeps and slamms [sic] of containers,” wrote one grumpy resident on the community group’s Facebook page recently. “Most of the night bang, slamm and beeps, truck or ship horns and other high frequency sounds. Things need to improve. This noise stays in my head through the morning. Need sleep.” In July last year, the EPA set up monitoring equipment for 10 days on the balcony of Carlos Da Rocha, a resident. After analysing the results, it said there had been no increase in noise levels from when the testing was last done 12 years ago, and sleep disturbance criteria were not being exceeded. Sceptical residents asked for the raw technical data, analysed it themselves, found the errors, and insisted the EPA redo its analysis. That is when the authority admitted there was a “timing mismatch”.
A media release from the EPA said the re-analysis of a 30-minute audio sample revealed the “timing mismatch, and the revised values now show that the sleep disturbance criteria was exceeded twice by noises that sounded like port-related activity”.
A spokesman for NSW Ports said the EPA had informed them about the mistake only a few hours before it had issued the news release, but the authority had not provided them with any further information from the report.
He said they were keen to work with the community.
The EPA has said more testing will now be done, a move welcomed by Mr Da Rocha, who said he was grateful the authority had identified the problems, apologised and had committed to more testing.
“Hopefully a noise abatement strategy will be put in place,” he said. “It is not about politics or point scoring, its about getting actions and putting technology in place for ports and related industries to ease the noise and take into account people’s health and wellbeing.”
Some residents said the experience showed the importance of not accepting expert advice at face value and including members of the public to provide another layer of scrutiny for operators and regulators.
Greens NSW MP Mehreen Faruqi said: “While it is important that the EPA will undertake further noise monitoring around Port Botany, there needs to be a review into why these noise breaches were not detected in the first place.”
When the authority was asked if the same mistakes had been made on other data, a spokeswoman said the “EPA is thoroughly assessing the noise data”.
She declined to release the audio tapes the public, – “because these were all taken at a resident’s private home, … the EPA must protect the privacy of the resident and neighbours”.