POLL, MAP: Pollution health fears

TOXIC pollution dumped at old tip sites in Lake Macquarie has left  a legacy of contamination  say residents who want more testing done amid fears for public health and the environment.

The residents  in particular want  to determine the extent of pollution coming from old council tips at Kilaben Bay and Rathmines, and if pollutants are leaching into the lake.

The old RAAF seaplane base used the Rathmines tip during World War II and residents fear munitions could still be there.

Newcastle University Associate Professor of  Environmental Science Phillip Geary says leachate from the old  tips could be make their way into surface water run-off and groundwater.

The Rathmines Progress Association, which has   researched historic public records and witness accounts, says drainage lines from the tips flow into creeks and the lake itself.

The association has raised its concerns in a submission to the NSW Department of Planning on Lake Macquarie City Council’s plan to extend Awaba tip.

The submission alleges the old tips at Kilaben Bay and Rathmines are unlined and questions whether they have been properly capped.

The association’s investigation found  the old Kilaben Bay tip had about 475,000 cubic metres of waste and the old Rathmines dump about 725,000 cubic metres of waste.

‘‘The ...  waste sites do not have leachate systems and ultimately leach into Kilaben Bay and the greater Lake Macquarie,’’ the submission says.

The association said Kilaben Bay tip closed in 1977 but was ‘‘still emitting substances after rain and is draining into a wetland’’.

It said the Rathmines site, next to an industrial estate in Dorrington Road, was originally a quarry, which the former RAAF Rathmines seaplane base filled with waste during World War II.

Old munitions, including grenades and live ammunition, had been found.

 ‘‘It was Australia’s largest seaplane base, with garbage disposal for up to 3000 enlisted RAAF & WAAF  personnel, plus contractors used this site,’’ the submission said.

‘‘Industrial-type waste from overhauling aircraft, boats, vehicles and machinery was unceremoniously dumped at the site.’’

Total Environment Centre executive director Jeff Angel said old tips were ‘‘undoubtedly contaminated sites producing a legacy of toxic effluent’’.

‘‘The EPA [Environment Protection Authority] should immediately start the formal process of registering and investigating these sites and issue remediation orders on the previous operators,’’ Mr Angel said.

An EPA spokeswoman said it had not received any reports of pollution from old tip sites at Kilaben Bay or Rathmines.

‘‘If pollution was discovered at an old disused site and it was assessed as warranting regulation under the Contaminated Land Management Act, then Section 60 of this act requires the pollution to be reported to the EPA,’’ the spokeswoman said.

The EPA would then consider whether the site needed to be ‘‘regulated’’ under the act.

‘‘When the EPA is notified of possible pollution, we require council or the landowner to ensure appropriate action is taken,’’ she  said.

A Department of Defence spokeswoman said the RAAF base at Rathmines ceased operations in 1952 and the site was sold in 1962.

 ‘‘A preliminary search failed to find any records [about the tip],’’ the spokeswoman said. ‘‘Questions about the environmental status of the site should be addressed to the current owners.’’

But she added  that all land that defence had used was ‘‘potentially a site of unexploded ordnance’’. 

The Rathmines Progress Association has questioned why Lake Macquarie City Council did not mention the old tips within its plan to extend the life of Awaba tip.

It believes the ‘‘cumulative effects’’ of tip sites should be considered in the state government’s assessment of the planned Awaba tip extension.

‘‘The overriding concerns for the progress association are the public safety, public health, and environmental health of Kilaben Bay and Lake Macquarie,’’ association honorary secretary Bill McArthur said.

Lake Macquarie City Council said it owned the capped former landfill sites at Kilaben Bay and Rathmines.

‘‘Both sites fall outside the scope of the proposed expansion of the Awaba landfill site,’’ the council said in a statement.  ‘‘Council has not received reports either directly, or through the EPA, of leachate escaping from either site.’’

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