Grid's net not cast widely enough: study

CONCERNS: Jim Sullivan says the grid was rough.

CONCERNS: Jim Sullivan says the grid was rough.

A FLAWED grid was used to establish which north Lake Macquarie residents were eligible for a strategy to deal with polluted properties, a Macquarie University study has found.

The study reflects concerns from a former official, who said hundreds more properties should have been included in the Lead Abatement Strategy, which the NSW government approved to deal with pollution from the old Pasminco smelter.

The government used a "lead contamination grid", established in 1995, to decide who could participate in the strategy.

Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan helped establish the grid when he was an environmental health council officer.


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Mr Sullivan said the grid was put together "roughly and on a limited budget", with the boundaries of Cockle Creek, the lake and Munibung Hill. It mainly included the suburbs of Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point.

Mr Sullivan said there were hundreds of other properties in Warners Bay, Macquarie Hills, Booragul, Teralba, Edgeworth, Cardiff and Glendale that were potentially contaminated with lead.

This was confirmed by Macquarie University soil and dust sampling this year that found elevated levels of lead and other metals outside the grid.

NSW Environment Protection Authority director of contaminated land and environmental health, Craig Lamberton, said the grid was based on homes in an area identified in a 1995 commission of inquiry, formed when Pasminco wanted to expand.

"That process established about 2000 homes in areas defined as being affected by fallout from the smelter," Mr Lamberton said.

The EPA negotiated with the NSW Department of Health and Pasminco administrator Ferrier Hodgson "for a process to do a clean-up of those sites where there was elevated levels of lead dust".

"These were the properties [where] we knew the [abatement] strategy would have the most impact on people's health," Mr Lamberton said. "It was offered to 2500 properties, more than the original grid, and covered Speers Point, Argenton and Boolaroo.

"About half, 1200 properties, took up the free offer."

He said the strategy included a "big education campaign, with about 780 people given educational material about the lead issue in their backyard".

Mr Sullivan said the grid was originally established not to determine lead-contaminated properties but to decide in which areas children should be tested for elevated lead levels in blood.

Mr Lamberton agreed that the grid was the area in which children's blood was monitored for lead. Blood-lead levels fell when the smelter closed in 2003, he said.

Pasminco administrator Ferrier Hodgson told the government it was "appropriate" that the abatement strategy rely on the grid, documents show.