Summerhill tip to accept Pasminco toxic lead soil

FED UP: Mark Hambier has been waiting for months to dump tonnes of disturbed lead-laden dirt and grass from the yard of his Fifth Street, Boolaroo, property. Picture: Marina Neil
FED UP: Mark Hambier has been waiting for months to dump tonnes of disturbed lead-laden dirt and grass from the yard of his Fifth Street, Boolaroo, property. Picture: Marina Neil

IT'S the environmental nightmare that no one wants to own – what to do with tonnes of toxic lead-contaminated soil spread over three suburbs in north Lake Macquarie. 

The fallout from 106 years of lead smelting at Cockle Creek.

After years of residents' campaigning for a dumping facility in the Hunter, Newcastle City Council has emerged as the unlikely solution for Lake Macquarie residents.

Newcastle's Summerhill Waste Management Centre started accepting lead-contaminated soil last week after the Environment Protection Authority announced in August it had varied the tip's licence.

Previously residents wanting to dispose of the soil from Boolaroo, Speers Point and Argenton had to truck it to Sydney and pay up to $600 a tonne to dump it, not including transport costs.

Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan welcomed news of a dumping facility in the region, but said residents should not have to pay.

"It’s great news, except the cost to residents of course,” he said.

“It makes sense that Newcastle is charging because they are accepting waste from another area, but Lake Macquarie council should have offered this service free. If they could vary Summerhill’s licence to accept the waste, surely the same could have been done in Lake Macquarie.” 

A spokeswoman for Lake Macquarie City Council said it’s waste facilities did not have the capacity or requirements to accept lead soil waste.

“Awaba Waste Management Facility operates as one containment cell, and lead soil waste needs to be managed in its own cell,” she said.

Newcastle council's interim chief executive officer Jeremy Bath said the cost of disposing of the soil at Summerhill would be the same price as mixed general solid waste, or $275 per tonne.

Mr Bath said a safe handling process was developed to allow Summerhill to start accepting the waste. "The cost of disposing the soil could be half the cost and reduces the inconvenience of having to take it to Sydney," he said.

The Newcastle Herald revealed last month that residents had been left with large piles of the toxic soil in their yards waiting for a place to dispose of it.

Hundreds of homes still contain levels of lead in soil higher than national health guidelines of 300 parts per million. For a development application to be considered, the soil must be remediated.

Residents were able to dump lead-contaminated soil free in a containment cell on the former Cockle Creek smelter site, but it closed in early 2015.