Residents outraged remediation no longer legally required

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 THE NSW government surrendered a legal requirement for Pasminco to do ‘‘remediation work’’ to residential properties in north Lake Macquarie, documents show.

This requirement was within a 1995 state government development consent for an expansion of the old Pasminco lead and zinc smelter.

The consent required the plant to do ‘‘remediation work’’ to residential properties at Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point ‘‘where lead levels remain above 600 parts per million’’, a NSW Department of Planning report said.

Pasminco administrator Ferrier Hodgson has argued the remediation condition lapsed when the smelter closed in 2003.

The planning department agreed to ‘‘surrender’’ the condition and instead accept a ‘‘Lead Abatement Strategy’’ in 2008, government documents show.

Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan said  nobody had told residents about it.

‘‘It’s shocking that the then Labor government would do this to working class people,’’ he said.

Boolaroo Action Group member Stan Kiaos said the government had made a ‘‘terrible’’ decision. ‘‘It’s left us in the lurch – residents will be carrying the can yet again,’’ he said.

The Pasminco site itself required full remediation, with contaminants removed and placed in a containment cell to allow housing to be developed.

This followed the NSW Environment Protection Authority issuing a remediation order in 2003 for the Pasminco site, saying it was ‘‘contaminated in particular with lead, cadmium and zinc in such a way as to present a significant risk of harm’’.

But residents were left with the abatement strategy, which has been labelled as inadequate and a failed project.

Soil and dust samples collected by Macquarie University found many properties in the area had lead pollution levels above the national standard of 300 parts per million and the 1995 level of 600 parts per million.

The abatement strategy involved no action for grass-covered properties with lead pollution between 300 parts per million and 1000 parts per million. More heavily polluted yards were covered with a thin layer of soil and/or grass. Soil was not removed.

Of the 1226 properties that had soil tested under the strategy, only 18 qualified for having five centimetres of contaminated soil removed. For this measure to be triggered, lead pollution levels had to be above 2500 parts per million.

The strategy’s overall aim was to ‘‘achieve a reduction in human exposure to lead-dust contamination in surface soils’’.

Macquarie University environmental science professor Mark Patrick Taylor said the EPA was acting as if towns around the smelter had an ‘‘invisible five-kilometre high wall protecting the community for decades against emissions’’.

EPA director of contaminated land and environmental health Craig Lamberton said Ferrier Hodgson had planned to appeal the 1995 remediation condition.

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‘‘It was difficult for us to require them by law to do this [fully remediate houses], when they can say ‘the pollution was caused over 100 years by other parties, not just Pasminco’,’’ Mr Lamberton said.

Mr Lamberton said the EPA ‘‘managed to prevail’’ in securing the abatement strategy.

Pasminco admits on its website that the abatement works had not removed ‘‘contamination in the ground’’.

The EPA admitted in a 2011 document said ‘‘that lead concentrations in undisturbed soils at the site would remain largely unchanged’’.

The EPA believes keeping the pollutants covered will prevent exposure to humans, but Macquarie University said it was an inadequate measure.

Ferrier Hodgson said it was ‘‘quite happy’’ with the abatement strategy, which was ‘‘done in accord with council and government requirements’’.

Ferrier Hodgson director Richard Bastow said the administrator spent millions on the strategy, but he did not give a figure.

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