Toxic Truth: Contamination fears for junior footballers

SAFETY PLEA: Riley Woolley-MacIntosh, left, father Neil, Peter Cooper and daughter Caitlin.  Picture: Peter Stoop
SAFETY PLEA: Riley Woolley-MacIntosh, left, father Neil, Peter Cooper and daughter Caitlin. Picture: Peter Stoop

ARGENTON United Football Club is calling for authorities to test the soil on its playing field, after concerns players are being put at risk of lead contamination.

Club secretary Neil MacIntosh said it was ‘‘unbelievable’’ that the club’s home ground of 54 years, Jack Edwards Oval, had not been tested for lead since the mid 1990s, when it was remediated.

‘‘The authorities told the committee members then that it was an acceptable level, but I don’t know what acceptable is – I’m a member of the public and can only go by what they tell me,’’ Mr MacIntosh said.

‘‘If it’s acceptable to them, is it acceptable to us?

‘‘If our kids are still getting contaminated, what are they going to do about it if our kids get sick?’’

Testing by The Newcastle Herald and Macquarie University of samples taken from nearby Tredinnick Oval – part of Speers Point Park, the base of the upcoming International Children’s Games – returned lead level readings of 1970, 580 and 17,500 parts per million, with the last result considered to be slag.

Mr MacIntosh said his club had not been approached in recent memory by any organisation with an offer for testing or any kind of remediation.

It asked Lake Macquarie City Council once in the past four years for topsoil to be laid and only received a third of the quantity it needed to cover the oval – ‘‘enough to fill in the rabbit holes’’ – although the council does call each time it knows the club is aerating the pitch to ensure any displaced soil remains on site.

Instead, the club pays $250 of its own money for a load of topsoil to be added to its grounds either at the start or end of each season.

‘‘That way we know what we’re getting and know we’ve got enough to cover the field,’’ he said.

‘‘It keeps the ground soft, the grass playable, but it’s also a fact that with the contamination factor as well we like to put topsoil on.

‘‘The concern is if the contamination is there and especially if it’s on top of the soil and the kids are getting it in, we don’t know how much there is if it hasn’t been tested.’’

Mr MacIntosh said he is ‘‘disappointed’’ that schools, parks and playing fields were not covered in the lead abatement strategy conducted by Pasminco administrator Ferrier Hodgson.

‘‘Now that I know that they have been conducting these tests [on private properties in the past three years] and we’ve missed out my level of concern is very high – we’re only a small club but we still have up to 130 players plus visiting teams and other people that use our amenities so I’m very worried about what’s going on,’’ he said.

‘‘I think the grounds should be tested and maybe a little more regularly, considering they are doing a lot of work on the old Pasminco site and the contaminants can be carried by the wind.

‘‘Just because a place is closed is not a reason to be complacent.’’

A Lake Macquarie City Council spokesperson said the council takes a ‘‘proactive, safety-first approach’’ in the management of contaminated land under its control.

‘‘An Environmental Management Plan guides cap-and-contain practices and, where appropriate, the progressive remediation of slag-affected soils on council-owned properties, particularly those on sports fields and public reserves,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘Regarding New Tredinnick Oval, works have been conducted to improve the soil conditions and turf coverage at this site, such as periodic top-dressing and the installation of an irrigation system, which have significantly lowered the potential for exposure to slag.’’