Boolaroo Action Group says children aren't 'canaries', calls for 'real action' over lead contamination

CALLS FOR 'REAL ACTION': Jim Sullivan holds black slag at Eleebana. Picture: Phil Hearne
CALLS FOR 'REAL ACTION': Jim Sullivan holds black slag at Eleebana. Picture: Phil Hearne

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THE Boolaroo Action Group has demanded it be represented on a working party which the NSW government has set up to deal with lead pollution in north Lake Macquarie.

And it says a decision to once again test the blood lead levels of children in the area should not be used as a stalling tactic against taking real action to remediate contamination left behind by the old Pasminco smelter.

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The NSW Environment Protection Authority said on Monday it would establish a ‘‘small working group’’, including members from the Environment Protection Authority, NSW Health, Macquarie University and local authorities, to consider the findings of the joint Newcastle Herald and Macquarie University study that found alarming levels of lead and other heavy metals still existing in homes and public places around the former smelter site.

Action group spokesman Jim Sullivan said decisions should not be made without community input.

‘‘We don’t want a government official telling this community what’s best for it,’’ Mr Sullivan said.

Both Environment Minister Rob Stokes and the EPA said the Boolaroo group was welcome to ‘‘engage’’ with the working party.

The Hunter Public Health Unit has said it will offer blood lead testing to all children under five years of age in Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point, as a result of the Herald and Macquarie University findings.

But the Boolaroo Action Group, while supporting parents who wanted their children tested, said it opposed the blanket testing of all children.

‘‘We don’t want the community’s children used as canaries and pollution monitors,’’ Mr Sullivan said.

The group was ‘‘filthy’’ with politicians, who he alleged had let the community down over the matter. He said if the government had not surrendered a condition for Pasminco to remediate homes, the blood tests would not be needed.

The EPA said lead levels in blood were the ‘‘best determinate of the effectiveness of existing programs to reduce community exposure to lead’’.

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said blood lead testing in children was ‘‘of paramount importance in addressing the anxieties of the families within the area”. Mr Piper said test results ‘‘may provide the conclusive case for further action on remediation/abatement’’.

Blood-lead testing was previously done on the area’s children from 1991 to 2006. Mr Sullivan was involved with this testing as an environmental health council officer.

He said the testing produced alarming results, but the government did not rectify the pollution source.

He feared a similar outcome if more testing was done.

More testing would simply give ‘‘Department of Health bureaucrats another job for a year or two’’, he said.

Health authorities insist that smelter emissions (which ceased with its closure in 2003), rather than soil contamination, are the cause of high blood lead levels. But former head of the No Lead action group Theresa Gordon said the government was using any excuse to avoid taking responsibility and facing the truth.

‘‘When the smelter was operating, they used to blame the children’s high lead levels on the soil and claim it had nothing to do with the emissions," she said. ‘‘Now they say it was the emissions that were the problem all along and the soil is not an issue.’’