Environmental threats

Air quality

Good air quality is important for the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors to Lake Macquarie. We work with government, industry and our community to protect air quality and to reduce exposure to air pollution.

Types of pollution

Outdoor air quality is measured by the level of a set of identified air pollutants. Air pollutants range from dust particles, which can be seen by the naked eye, to gases and microscopic particles.

The main sources of air pollution in Lake Macquarie are coal-fired electricity generation, coal mining, and vehicle emissions. Air pollutants relevant to Lake Macquarie City include:

  • carbon monoxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less (PM10)
  • particles of 2.5 micrometres in diameter or less (PM2.5)
  • sulphur dioxide
  • total volatile organic compounds measured as atmospheric ozone.

Particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometres (about the one-fifth the diameter of a human hair) or less (PM10), and particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres (about one-twentieth the size of a human hair) or less (PM2.5) are the most common pollutants in the Hunter Valley.

PM10 particles generally include pollen, mould spores and material that has been manually crushed into a dust. PM2.5 particles generally include particles from combustion processes - commonly from fires and power stations for example.

Operating a wood-fire in your home

When operated efficiently, wood-fires are an excellent source of home heating and can be a relatively cheap form of home heating. A poorly operated wood-fired heater will use excessive firewood and can emit 100 times more smoke than a correctly operated wood-fired heater.

Council does receive complaints concerning the operation of wood burning heaters and appliances. While they are legal to use, inefficient operation by owners may cause smoke nuisance and excess emissions.

Here are six hot tips for operating a wood-fire in your home:

  • Use only small logs of seasoned, untreated wood
  • Store wood under cover in a dry, ventilated area
  • Maintain a bright flame, never let your heater smoulder
  • Increase the air supply if you see your chimney smoking
  • Use several small logs rather than one large log
  • Make sure your chimney is cleaned at least every two years.

The NSW EPA has published guidelines for the start-up and efficient use of wood burning heaters and appliances.

Outdoor fires

Council’s Control of Open Burning Policy details the criteria that must be met for approved open burning of dead and dry vegetative material, on parcels of land that meet the following criteria:

Parcels of land must be:

  • greater than 4000m2 in area and
  • zoned E2-4-Environmental, RE2-Private Recreation, RU2-Rural Landscape, RU4-Primary Production Small Lots, or RU6-Transition under the Lake Macquarie Local Environmental Plan 2014.

In addition, the land manager must comply with the following conditions: 

  1. An open fire must be at least 20 metres from any dwelling.
  2. Adequate water supplies must be immediately on hand to extinguish the fire if required.
  3. Adjacent property occupiers (or, if there are no occupiers, the owners) must be given 24 hours notice (verbal or written) of an intention to burn, unless specified otherwise in a Fire Permit.
  4. An open fire must be supervised by a responsible adult at all times.
  5. All combustible material within 4.5 metres of the fire must be removed.
  6. Burning should only take place when weather conditions are suitable with winds under 15km/h and predicted to remain so.
  7. Burning should not cause nuisance to neighbours or a smoke hazard to traffic.
  8. The lighting of open fires is not permitted before sunrise or after sunset.
  9. Activities must be undertaken in accordance with the NSW Rural Fire Service/Fire and Rescue NSW document “Standards for Pile Burning”.
  10. Land managers/owners must notify their local RFS or the nearest NSW Fire Brigades station at least 24 hours before the fire is lit, unless specified otherwise in a Fire Permit.

 Notify RFS of your planned burn

Council permits are not required for open burning at applicable properties. However, for land in a rural fire district a fire permit is required from the Rural Fire Service during the bushfire danger period. In addition, for land in a fire district a fire permit is required from NSW Fire and Rescue all year round.

Further details are included in Council’s Control of Open Burning Policy.

What is Council doing about air quality issues?

We have been addressing local air quality issues through a range of initiatives, including air quality reports, modelling and mapping. We are also required to consider air quality reports during the Development Application assessment process.

A comprehensive review of local air quality, and Council's actions to address quality issues, is reported in the State of the Environment Report(PDF, 41MB).

How to report air pollution incidents

Air pollution, including dust from commercial properties and work sites, suspicious odours, and other forms of pollution, can be reported to Council for investigation.

You can report an air pollution incident or lodge an odour complaint online or by contacting our Customer Service Centre on 4921 0333, Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm.

For after hours or emergency incidents, contact the EPA Pollution Hotline on 131 555.

Contaminated land

Contaminated land contains substances that are not expected to be present under natural circumstances, and that may be a risk to human health or the environment. We work with other levels of government and industry to manage contaminated land within the City.


Lake Macquarie City has three main soil contaminants of concern:


Lake Macquarie City accommodated the Pasminco Cockle Creek Lead Smelter for more than 100 years. This smelter contributed to land contamination from atmospheric lead dust and the production and distribution of black slag. Further lead contamination in the City has occurred from the historic use of lead paint.

  • Lead dust from the smelter contaminated the soil in parts of Boolaroo, Speers Point, Argenton, Teralba and some neighbouring areas. The affected areas is called the Pasminco Lead Contamination Survey Grid (LCS Grid). Soil on properties within the LCS Grid is considered potentially contaminated until a lead-in-soil test from a qualified consultant indicates otherwise.
  • Black slag is a by-product of lead smelting and resembles black sand-like material. Historically, black slag was thought to be safe for landscaping applications and, being freely available from the smelter, was widely distributed throughout the City. Recently, soluable lead was identified in black slag deposits and consequently the material is now considered a contaminant.
  • Lead paint was commonly used throughout the City prior to 1970. Lead paint is known to flake off and cause contamination on the ground surrounding the building. The Australian Government has more information on the health effects of lead exposure.


Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that has excellent insulating properties and is resistant to fire, moisture and chemical damage. Until being banned in Australia for health reasons, asbestos fibre was used in an extensive range of products including (but not limited to) building cladding, plumbing, gaskets, brake linings, insulation, ducting, ropes and clothing.

More information on how to handle, dispose and remove asbestos is available on our website. 


The storage of hydrocarbons (petrol, diesel, etc) in tanks can be problematic. Storage systems, including the tank and fittings, can leak and cause land contamination which may spread to surrounding areas, and in extreme cases, reach groundwater. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is currently reviewing the integrity of, and regulating, all underground petroleum storage systems (UPSS) in NSW.

Managing contaminated land during development

While performing development works, it is important to remain aware of contamination. Contamination may be caused by certain prior land uses, chemical spills, importing contaminated fill and other avenues. Our Contaminated Land in Lake Macquarie City(PDF, 205KB) fact sheet contains further information on identifying and managing contamination during development works.

If contaminants are present, Council will require land developers to remediate the land prior to obtaining development consent. The acceptable levels of soil contaminants is in the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure.

If remediation is required, the landowner (or the polluter, if known) is responsible for the contaminated land. This includes all remediation costs and any legal implications.

Contaminated land should be handled with caution. In addition to being a potential health hazard, the handling of, removal and/or transport of contaminated land may be regulated. It is recommended to work with qualified consultants when it is suspected that contaminated land is present.

Council Officers are available to provide advice on managing contamination during development.

Residents within the Pasminco Lead Abatement Strategy area should contact the EPA's Waste Compliance Team on 4908 6800 to discuss management and disposal options for lead contaminated soils.

Minor and moderate contamination

Contaminated land issues are largely managed by the process described in the State Environmental Planning Policy (Resilience and Hazards) 2021(PDF, 447KB). This provides advice on how to remediate contaminated land in NSW.

Significant contamination

If the contaminant poses an unacceptable risk to humans or the environment, the EPA must be notified by calling 131 555 as soon as possible.

The landowner (or polluter, if known) is responsible for notifying the EPA, even if contamination occurred prior to ownership and it is an offence to not notify the EPA as soon as practicable.

If the EPA deems the site to be significantly contaminated, contamination must be managed in accordance with the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997. This Act provides detailed information on how significant contamination must be handled, along with the duty to notify and other important information.

What is Council doing to manage contaminated land and reduce exposure?

Council is addressing local contaminated land issues through a range of initiatives including:

  • A Contaminated Land Policy(PDF, 654KB), which provides an overview of Council's strategies to manage contamination throughout the City
  • On request and for a fee, Council issues Planning Certificates under Section 10.7 Planning Certificates, which, in part, detail the contaminated land status of the property
  • Maintaining a contaminated land database, which provides an historical record of all contamination throughout the City. The database is used to inform Council officers response to land enquiries, and for information on Section 10.7 Planning Certificates
  • Environmental Management Plan for Contaminated Land in Council's care and control provides guidance on minimising the risks associated with contaminated land in the city, and is aligned with appropriate standards and legislation
  • Council Officers are required to consider contaminated land when assessing development and planning proposals for the rezoning of land. These development applications are assessed against national contaminated land standards

We can provide advice on contaminated land within the City. Please call our Customer Service Centre on 4921 0333 if you require further information. For more advice on managing contaminated land in NSW, visit epa.nsw.gov.au.