Toxic Truth: No escaping dust for neighbours of moonscape

CONSTANT CAR WASHER: Boolaroo resident Stephen Griffen at the old Pasminco site.  Picture: Phil Hearne
CONSTANT CAR WASHER: Boolaroo resident Stephen Griffen at the old Pasminco site. Picture: Phil Hearne

STEPHEN Griffen’s car is the only monitor needed to show how much dust is blowing off the former Pasminco site into the surrounding streets.

A heavy layer of pollution quickly gathers on the ungaraged vehicle within hours of it being washed every second day.

‘‘I’m not a whinger, but it’s quite evident to everyone around here that dust is a big problem,’’ Mr Griffen, whose First Street home overlooks the 191hectare moonscape, said.

‘‘They have got water trucks over there to wet it down sometimes but they don’t go off the main roads.’’

In addition to the dust, there is the noise, which usually starts about 6am. 

‘‘There’s four or five trucks over there at the moment but sometimes they have up to a dozen.’’

Several First, Second and Third street residents told the Newcastle Herald  they had made numerous complaints to the Environment Protection Authority hotline about dust blowing off the site. Despite that, EPA records show only five complaints had been received about the issue in the past two years. 

An Environment Protection Authority spokeswoman said monitoring data provided by Pasminco showed the levels of lead dust blowing from the site had significantly decreased over the past decade.

Despite the official assurances, Macquarie University environmental scientist Mark Taylor said he was not convinced the site would be completely safe.

‘‘There will always be questions over previously contaminated sites,’’ Professor Taylor said. 

‘‘If I had a choice I wouldn’t live there. If I didn’t have children I might have a slightly different view on it.’’

Although the EPA is  still the site’s overall regulator, areas where remediation has been completed have been moved to Lake Macquarie Council’s control.

The spokeswoman said the EPA had previously shut down work on the site when there had been a high risk of dust blowing from the site.

‘‘Pasminco has an active revegetation program for much of the site, to help limit dust generation,’’ she said. 

Revegetation of the main containment cell is scheduled to commence early in the new year.

It was revealed in July that the EPA considered fining the smelter’s administrator, Ferrier Hodgson, over misreporting heavy metal contamination at the site. 

Documents lodged with the EPA earlier this year showed lead contamination levels exceeded recommended standards by 6400 times but it has since been revealed the reported levels were incorrect.

EPA hotline  131 555

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