A MONTH before the March state election, the environment minister of the day, Rob Stokes, won praise for visiting Lake Macquarie to personally witness the impact of lead contamination in Boolaroo and surrounding areas.
At much the same time, Premier Mike Baird told the residents of mine-affected Bulga he would ‘‘walk the lands’’ and ‘‘talk to the communities’’ of those whose homes and lifestyles were threatened by encroaching open-cut mines.
Now, with the election out of the way, the lead- and coal-affected communities of the Hunter are starting to wonder how serious the Coalition government was with its promises to side with the people.
Tired of waiting for Mr Baird to make the journey north, Bulga residents will gather in Sydney on Monday outside the ministerial offices of the Premier and Mr Stokes, who is now Planning Minister.
Armed with a document known as the Bulga Declaration, they are determined to ensure the government hears their call.
In Lake Macquarie, the Boolaroo Action Group is accusing the government of using children as guinea pigs, as Macquarie Street insists on a series of blood-lead tests before it will finalise its response to the health issues highlighted by the Newcastle Herald’s Toxic Truth examination of the Pasminco smelter ‘‘clean-up’’.
The lead action group wants a future fund established to pay for the removal of contaminated soil from some 2500 residential properties in Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point, but the Environment Protection Authority wants to predicate its response on the basis of ‘‘new blood testing results’’, including a free regime of tests aimed at children under five years of age.
Given that the smelter closed more than a decade ago, it is logical to expect that whatever the results show, blood-lead levels will have improved since the years when Pasminco was in business.
But as the Herald’s Toxic Truth series has shown, there is much more to the Boolaroo lead dilemma than the blood-lead levels of the population.
Throughout the affected area, residents are being saddled with a range of extra costs that derive from failures or shortcomings with the original lead abatement strategy. Homeowners wanting to build or extend are being told to pay for expensive testing and decontamination before their projects will be approved. And black slag still sits in large, if undetermined, quantities, as land-fill across Lake Macquarie.
In situations such as these, justice delayed is indeed justice denied.
All involved know what caused the problems, and they know how to fix them. The sooner the government uses its powers to begin a proper clean-up, the sooner it will win back the faith of an understandably disappointed community.