Toxic Truth: Contamination, cancer growing up at the gasworks

Sisters Dominique and Corinne Frost outside the former gasworks. Picture: Marina Neil
Sisters Dominique and Corinne Frost outside the former gasworks. Picture: Marina Neil

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EIGHT children grew up in a house on the Hamilton Gasworks site before it was closed in 1985, declared contaminated, and left derelict for 30 years until belated government action to force remediation.

Now members of the Frost family, who lived on the site in the manager’s house between 1954 and 1973, want answers from AGL and the NSW government after a disturbingly high rate of disabilities, deaths and severe and life-threatening conditions, including cancer, affecting two generations of family members.

They contacted the Newcastle Herald after an article revealed the derelict gasworks property was one of the Hunter’s most contaminated sites, with reports showing it is leaching carcinogenic and toxic materials into groundwater that poses a risk to human health and the environment.

‘‘If it’s such a toxic site then what does that mean for the people who worked there and the community around it?’’ said Dominique Frost, whose father was a chemical engineer and then site manager, and whose family lived in an AGL-owned house on the site between 1954 and 1973.

‘‘AGL says it’s not its problem any more because it’s moved on, but I don’t think you can just walk away.’’

The youngest of the Frost children, born in 1961 with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, died in 2009, aged 48. The three next youngest children, including Dominique Frost and her sister Corinne, have battled serious cancer.

Both women were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s, in a family with no history of breast cancer.

Dominique had chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. Corinne, who was 42 when she was diagnosed, required a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.

The Frost family outside their gasworks home, unaware of the devastating toll that the site may have had on their health in later life.

The Frost family outside their gasworks home, unaware of the devastating toll that the site may have had on their health in later life.

The fourth youngest daughter was diagnosed five years ago with bowel cancer that spread to her lungs. Her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29.

The second eldest of the Frost children was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 46, and is one of two of the Frost children who have also had treatment for melanomas.

Five of the eight Frost children have had thyroid problems requiring treatment, including either the partial or whole removal of the organ.

Corinne Frost has had half her thyroid removed. One of Dominique Frost’s daughters has also had half her thyroid removed.

Dominique Frost gave birth to six children, including twins. Two children were born with intellectual disabilities, one of the twins died the day after he was born, and the second twin needed treatment for a physical disability.

For years, some family members have talked about whether there was a link between growing up in a house on the gasworks site, and the family’s extraordinary history of serious health issues.

‘‘The gasworks site was our playground,’’ said Dominique Frost.

‘‘We used to play around the tar pit and in the coal piles.’’

Dominique and Corinne Frost said they were disgusted at the failure of the company to remediate the site, despite studies from as early as 1987 and 1988 showing the extent of soil and groundwater contamination.

‘‘AGL is a huge company. It made millions in profits on the back of a local community that worked very hard on that site and has been left to live with the consequences,’’ Dominique Frost said.

‘‘AGL and the NSW government have known how contaminated that site was for so long, and yet nothing’s been done. It’s appalling.’’