Sand mines fall outside EPA's revised maps of the PFAS contamination red zone

SHIFTING SANDS: The sand quarries that fall outside of Williamtown’s new contamination red zone. The NSW Environment Protection Authority has denied the map was deliberately designed to avoid encircling heavy industry.
SHIFTING SANDS: The sand quarries that fall outside of Williamtown’s new contamination red zone. The NSW Environment Protection Authority has denied the map was deliberately designed to avoid encircling heavy industry.

THREE existing and proposed sand mines are located along the edge – but fall outside – of Williamtown’s new contamination red zone. 

It’s sparked an angry response from residents and politicians, who were incredulous that the toxic plume of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals could have stopped at the boundary of each of the sand mines.  

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One resident of Cabbage Tree Road, who did not wish to be named, said authorities should be “embarrassed and ridiculed” over the map. 

“Initially we had intelligent fish that knew not to swim under a line drawn across Fullerton Cove. 

“Now we have aquifers that recognise property boundaries, especially those of existing and proposed sand mines,” he said. 

The revised red zone was unveiled by the NSW Environment Protection Authority last Sunday, two years after the first maps of the contamination plume were released. 

Three of the sand mines – Fullerton Cove Sand Quarry, Mackas Sand Quarry and the proposed Cabbage Tree Road Sand Quarry – are now directly outside the red zone’s boundary. 

A fourth quarry, run by Boral, is a short distance to the south-east. 

But an EPA spokesperson denied the line had deliberately snaked around the multi-million dollar operations. 

“The changes to the entire Management Area are based on known monitoring results, the results of surface and groundwater testing and the limits of surface drains in the area,” he said. “They are not based on the location of specific industries.” 

He said the NSW government would review Defence’s groundwater sampling periodically and update advice accordingly.

The matter was raised by Port Stephens MP Kate Washington in state parliament on Thursday. She blasted the EPA for the lack of detail in the map, which she said was not capable of displaying to residents whether they were in or out of the red zone’s boundaries. 

“They need to produce a detailed map,” she said. “It should have been available from day one.” 

Ms Washington was perplexed the new map had been rushed out to the community, when it seemed to be based on data that was not new. 

“It beggars belief we're two years and two months down the track and this arrogant approach is continuing. It’s shambolic at best.” 

In a letter to the EPA, three residents’ action groups claimed the map was produced at approximately 1:6000 scale, meaning it was “incredibly difficult” to read.  

“This is exacerbated by the boundary lines being somewhat loose. For example, the Salt Ash sports ground is shown to be half contaminated and half clear,” they wrote.