Toxic Truth: Pasminico remediation criticised: US best practice example

POLLUTED: The Bunker Hill smelter in the US has been part of a continuing clean-up.  Picture: E.H. Bennett
POLLUTED: The Bunker Hill smelter in the US has been part of a continuing clean-up. Picture: E.H. Bennett

THE US Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $200million cleaning up an area called Bunker Hill, which suffered from 125 years of pollution from a lead and zinc smelter and mining operations.

It plans a further $635million clean-up in the decades ahead with money secured from corporate polluters.

It was doing the clean-up because of the ‘‘serious health risks’’ the pollution posed to children.

Boolaroo Action Group has asked why the NSW government has failed to do this kind of project in north Lake Macquarie.

The former Pasminco lead and zinc smelter polluted land in this area – including Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point – for more than 100 years.

Macquarie University tested soil in this area and found high levels of contaminants, which it said posed a serious risk to people’s health.

University environmental science professor Mark Patrick Taylor said the NSW government’s handling of the Pasminco pollution legacy was ‘‘a failure to regulate and enforce world’s best practice’’.

He cited the Bunker Hill project as an example of a ‘‘world’s best-practice approach’’ to cleaning up pollution.

‘‘It shows how dismissive the NSW EPA’s approach has been,’’ he said.

NSW Environment Protection Authority director of contaminated land and environmental health Craig Lamberton said remediation of the Pasminco and Incitec Pivot sites, along with a ‘‘Lead Abatement Strategy’’ for about 1200 properties cost ‘‘in the order of $100million’’.

Pasminco administrator Ferrier Hodgson paid for this, but the EPA could not get more money for clean-ups because of Pasminco’s financial collapse.

The NSW government approved the abatement strategy for houses surrounding the Pasminco site, which did not remove the contamination.

The strategy did not include any public areas and did nothing to remove pollution from Cockle Creek and Cockle Bay, which Pasminco polluted.

Professor Taylor said Pasminco should be made to pay to clean up residential and public areas it polluted.

‘‘It’s unreasonable for the taxpayer to clean up for a private corporation,’’ he said.

Mr Lamberton said federal corporation law had allowed Pasminco to use a company structure that placed liabilities into a company that collapsed.

‘‘We’re a regulator, but one of the challenges we have is the law only works if you can find a party to hold accountable,’’ he said.

At Bunker Hill in north Idaho, the US EPA was cleaning up polluted land with $180million it received in a settlement with Hecla Mining Company, a US EPA statement said.

The US EPA secured a further $485million in legal action from the American Smelting and Refining Company bankruptcy for future clean-up costs at Bunker Hill.

The project had cleaned up about 6500 residential yards, parks, commercial properties and other public areas.

Additionally, more than 1.5million cubic metres of contaminated material was removed from the Coeur d’Alene river system.

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