Toxic Truth: Exposed - black slag on lake shore uncovered by storm

Jennifer Silvey and Ray Broadbent, with their dogs Roxy and Khardi,  say people often picnic in the Marmong Point area where black slag has been uncovered by  heavy storms. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
Jennifer Silvey and Ray Broadbent, with their dogs Roxy and Khardi, say people often picnic in the Marmong Point area where black slag has been uncovered by heavy storms. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

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GOVERNMENT agencies have been accused of failing to act to ensure public safety after a toxic waste pile was uncovered along the Lake Macquarie shore at Marmong Point.

Marmong Point after the April storms exposed black slag on the lakefront. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Marmong Point after the April storms exposed black slag on the lakefront. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The Newcastle Herald can reveal that poisonous heavy metals are being washed into the water, but authorities have failed to clean up the mess – which has remained since the April storm.

The wild weather caused the collapse of a retaining wall, exposing a 100-metre stretch of contamination, known as black slag, which was a Pasminco byproduct.

Residents have called on authorities to immediately clean up the pollution – not cover it up, as has previously occurred.

The revelation coincides with the release of a Macquarie University report that found slag in public areas in Lake Macquarie containing poisonous lead up to 30 times above recommended health levels.

Jim Sullivan with some of the black slag exposed along Marmong Point. Picture: Max Mason Hubers

Jim Sullivan with some of the black slag exposed along Marmong Point. Picture: Max Mason Hubers

Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan, pictured, said the Marmong Point slag exposure was along ‘‘a well used section of foreshore reserve and next to a sailing club’’.

Lake Macquarie City Council said it was  unaware  the slag was there until storm damage exposed it.  The site had been given the highest priority for foreshore remediation works,  the council said.

Marmong Point residents Ray Broadbent and Jennifer Silvey were shocked to learn  that black slag was on the shore.

“This should be removed – the whole place should be dug up,” Ms Silvey said.

Mr Broadbent added: “It’s a health issue.” They said people regularly have picnics and go sailing and fishing in the area.

Macquarie University researcher Anthony Morrison said the slag exposure was ‘‘disturbing’’.

With the slag having been washed into the water, Mr Morrison said it was ‘‘much more likely that lead will have leached out of it’’.

Ms Silvey said those who placed the slag there “should be held responsible to clean it up”.

She said Pasminco and the authority that gave permission for the slag to be distributed must take responsibility as well.

Mr Sullivan said Lake Macquarie City Council was “most likely the party responsible for putting it there in the first place”.

“They should be the party responsible for its removal,” he said.

“The EPA [Environment Protection Authority], which regulated Pasminco and allowed removal of the contaminated material, should be held accountable.”

The Herald asked the council if it denied placing the slag there.

In response, the council said it was “unaware of it until storm damage to the foreshore exposed the material”.

“Now that it has been discovered, the material has been assessed in accordance with council procedures,” a council statement said.

“Council holds records of sites containing black slag of which it is aware, and continues to manage contaminated land in line with council’s environmental management plan.”

Residents alleged the council covered up Marmong Point slag when it did work in the area within the past decade.

Mr Broadbent and Ms Silvey were concerned for their dogs because they walk them along the shore.

The council had erected a mesh fence around the exposed contamination zone, but there were no warning signs.

A council statement said the site had been given “the highest priority’’  for remediation works.

“Investigations identified storm damage to the foreshore exposed the material,” the statement said.

“Stabilisation works planned for the site will ensure contaminated material is capped, contained and protected to prevent future exposure.”

Mr Sullivan said the toxic waste should be removed, not covered up.

It was a serious public health threat, he said.

He said the council “needs to develop a serious protocol for its disposal”.

“The council need some government assistance to sort the problem out,” he said.

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said “clearly the slag exposure at Marmong Point needs to be addressed quickly”.

“If council requires additional assistance to address the problem, I will take that request to the state government,” Mr Piper said.

Residents fear the slag was used as fill in a massive area along the shore that was much more widespread than the exposed zone.

Ms Silvey was concerned that erosion would expose more of it.

Mr Sullivan said this incident “highlights how widespread the black slag issue is”.

The former environmental health official revealed a black slag exposure at Eleebana last year.

At Marmong Point and Eleebana, slag was exposed on the shore and in the water in areas where people and children traverse.

Despite authorities being alerted to the Eleebana waste last year, they have not cleaned it up.

Mr Sullivan said the EPA promised four years ago that it would secure a waste site to dispose of Pasminco pollution.

“We’re still waiting,” he said.

Mr Piper said: “My understanding is that the EPA has completed its testing of lead-impacted soils and determined the best method of disposal of contaminated soil is containment within a cell.”

“I believe they are now looking for an appropriate landfill site with proximity to the affected area,” he said.

An EPA spokeswoman said it was ‘‘aware of the slag issues at Marmong Point and understands that council has a process to manage black slag on private and public land’’.

‘‘The EPA is continuing to work with council on further options for residents who wish to dispose of lead slag from their properties,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Hunter New England Health has advised the EPA that children should not play in the exposed black slag.’’

The EPA said the Health Department had advised that ‘‘if black slag is present in people’s backyard, steps should be taken to cover it’’.

The old Pasminco smelter at Boolaroo before it was decommisisoned and dismantled.

The old Pasminco smelter at Boolaroo before it was decommisisoned and dismantled.