Fears of lead poisoning near former smelter

SOILED: A bulldozer works  in Boolaroo. Picture: Phil Hearne
SOILED: A bulldozer works in Boolaroo. Picture: Phil Hearne
POLLUTING: Boolaroo’s Pasminco smelter in operation, leaving a clean-up legacy for residents.

POLLUTING: Boolaroo’s Pasminco smelter in operation, leaving a clean-up legacy for residents.

RESIDENTS living in the footprint of the former Pasminco smelter fear they are still exposed to lead poisoning because of inconsistencies in the clean-up.

They want the state government to audit the lead abatement strategy designed to rid their properties from the legacy of more than a century of industrial pollution.

In addition to health impacts, there are concerns lingering lead contamination could affect future property values in nearby suburbs.

Residents who spoke to the Newcastle Herald complained that some properties had up to 100 millimetres of contaminated soil removed and replaced, while others had minimal work done.

"They hardly replaced anything. There's no way all of the contamination is gone," Boolaroo resident Chris Tanner said.

Another, who did not wish to be named, said residents had fought "tooth and nail" to have the work done but were disappointed with the result.

"I feel let down. The government and council made all sorts of promises but I don't think much has changed," he said.

The Lead Group, which promotes education about the dangers of lead, is also supporting residents.

"We have spoken to a lot of people from Lake Macquarie over the years who are worried about the impact of lead on their health," president Elizabeth O'Brien said.

"There's plenty of evidence that shows you need to do more than replace a bit of grass . . . Lead dust is a huge problem."

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said residents deserved to know how effective the scheme had been.

"Anything that is being done has to be an improvement, but there has to be some kind of process to review if the work has been done properly.

"We know what the abatement was designed to do. It would be nice if we could get an assurance that has been complied with," he said.

The free opt-in lead abatement strategy began in July 2011 and is nearing completion.

The Pasminco remediation project's administrator, Ferrier Hodgson, defended the program.

A spokesman said each property had been treated in accordance with the levels of contamination in the soil.

A Lake Macquarie Council spokeswoman said 1225 properties had taken part in the strategy. A further 500 to 700 eligible property owners chose not to participate.

"More than 80 per cent of properties sampled to date have returned results of below 1000 parts per million lead in soil, which require little or no abatement under the terms of the strategy," she said.

An Environment Protection Authority spokeswoman said it had not received a request to do an audit.

She said staff periodically visited residential properties following treatment.

"Some minor matters have been raised with the EPA over the term of the program but those issues have been resolved," she said

"The EPA is also not aware of any recent complaints relating to the program."

Site rehab contract goes to Incitec 

THE rehabilitation of the former Pasminco site at Cockle Creek will be completed  this year.  

A spokesman for project administrator Ferrier Hodgson said the company recently entered into an agreement with Incitec Fertilisers Limited, which occupies an island site.

Incitec will clean the site and place contaminated material within the existing Pasminco containment cell.

The Planning Department and Environment Protection Authority have approved it.