Toxic Truth: MP calls for review into ‘failed’ smelter clean-up

RE-THINK: Greg Piper wants a review of the state's clean up strategy for the Pasminco site.
RE-THINK: Greg Piper wants a review of the state's clean up strategy for the Pasminco site.

 LAKE Macquarie MP Greg Piper and the Greens have called for a review of a state-approved strategy  that pollution experts say failed to clean up residential and public land,  contaminated by the Pasminco smelter.

NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes refused to answer questions put by the Newcastle Herald on the matter, but instead referred them to his agency, the Environment Protection Authority.

Mr Piper emailed Mr Stokes on Monday to draw attention to a joint  Herald and Macquarie University investigation, which found alarming levels of lead and other heavy metals in homes and public places around the former Pasminco smelter.

The EPA said a ‘‘small working group’’ would be established to consider the matter.

The state government secretly approved a Lead Abatement Strategy in 2008 to deal with polluted residential land.

Macquarie University Professor Mark Patrick Taylor said the strategy had failed.

NSW EPA chief executive Barry Buffier and its director of contaminated land and environmental health Craig Lamberton met Professor Taylor on Monday to discuss the matter.

‘‘Both parties acknowledge that lead levels in blood were the best determinate of the effectiveness of existing programs to reduce community exposure to lead,’’  the  EPA  said, adding both it and Professor Taylor ‘‘support the approach by NSW Health to undertake further blood testing’’.

The EPA and Professor Taylor ‘‘committed to establishing a small working group, including members from the EPA, NSW Health, Macquarie University and other local authorities to contribute to the blood lead study and provide guidance on future priorities’’.

Professor Taylor said it was a ‘‘robust discussion’’ and he made it clear that  lead levels in soil in Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point were ‘‘too high’’.

Mr Piper said the ‘‘allegations raised by Professor Taylor and his team warrant a review’’ of the abatement strategy. He said ‘‘an independent expert or a senior departmental official with expertise in the field of lead contamination’’ should conduct the review.

Mr Piper said the review should consider if the abatement strategy went far enough and if it was monitored adequately. It should also ask if there was justification ‘‘for a new round of monitoring and perhaps further abatement measures’’.

Mr Piper welcomed Hunter Public Health Unit’s decision to resume blood lead level testing in children – a move that followed the Herald   investigation. No blood testing has been done since 2006.

Mr Piper said these test results ‘‘may provide the conclusive case for further action on remediation/abatement’’.

‘‘Allegations within the series of [Herald] articles rightly need to be addressed to ensure that the best possible outcome for public health is achieved,’’ he said. Protecting children from ‘‘any health deficits caused by lead or other legacy contaminants’’ was paramount.

Greens NSW MP Mehreen Faruqi said the NSW government must ‘‘take control to ensure the polluter remediates the sites and meets the needs of the affected community’’.

‘‘The polluter must be held accountable for the environmental and human health impacts of their legacy. Lead is an insidious health hazard, which can have significant long-term impacts especially on children.’’

Ms Faruqi said people had ‘‘waited long enough for a resolution to this land contamination issue’’.

‘‘There needs to be full transparency on how decisions were made, a review of the effectiveness of the Lead Abatement Strategy and a commitment to ensure any future health needs of affected people are met,’’ she said.

Mr Piper invited Mr Stokes to Lake Macquarie to see first hand the areas that have been subject to remediation and to meet ... the community.

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