Toxic Truth: Tests show high lead lurks in playgrounds

ALARMING RESULTS: Jim Sullivan  with black slag along the shore at Eleebana.  Picture: Phil Hearne
ALARMING RESULTS: Jim Sullivan with black slag along the shore at Eleebana. Picture: Phil Hearne

A DECADE after Pasminco’s lead and zinc smelter closed at Boolaroo and as the land is being prepared for redevelopment, the Newcastle Herald and Macquarie University collected more than 130 soil and  dust samples from homes and public spaces in surrounding suburbs. The analysis revealed alarming levels of contamination remained, despite a government-approved Lead Abatement Scheme.

High levels of lead pollution have been found at Speers Point and Eleebana in areas where children play.

Lead was found up to eight times recommended levels in areas around the popular all-abilities playground at Speers Point.

The Newcastle Herald took soil samples from three locations next to the playground.

Two samples were taken in patches of dirt where grass had eroded and one was taken next to a footpath.

The footpath was in between the playground and the Macquarie Football Complex, which will host the International Children’s Games.

Three samples were combined and tested at Warabrook laboratory ALS, which found a lead level of 4990 parts per million.

The national standard for health investigations for lead in soil in parks and recreational open space areas is 600 parts per million.

A sample taken on the Eleebana shore in front of houses on Bareki Road recorded a lead level of 3100 parts per million – five times above recommended levels.

Residents say this is an area where children wade.

Jim Sullivan, a retired environmental-health council officer, said the soil at Speers Point and Eleebana appeared to be contaminated with black slag – a Pasminco by-product.

Mr Sullivan, who is Boolaroo Action Group spokesman, said Lake Macquarie City Council used tonnes of slag to stabilise a hill above the Eleebana shore. 

He said loads of slag was also used in the Speers Point area, along with many other places in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle.

The Herald found no warning signs in affected areas.

Mr Sullivan described the test results as ‘‘alarming and disappointing’’.

‘‘The council and the EPA have taken their eyes off the ball and they haven’t been watching the game,’’ he said.

Council said it would ‘‘not comment on the scientific integrity of the test results’’.

‘‘Council does not typically perform lead testing on black slag when it is discovered – it manages it in accordance with council procedures,’’ it said.

‘‘Based on information from the Ministry of Health, council understands that occasional play in these areas will not give enough exposure to affect blood-lead levels.’’

The council said it was aware of ‘‘black slag deposits at Speers Point Park’’.

It had done a risk assessment and was ‘‘managing it with cap and contain procedures – top-soiling and returfing’’.

A risk assessment and site inspection had been done for ‘‘black slag at all locations hosting the International Children’s Games’’.

The council said it used ’’contained and capped black slag in a cell underground’’ to stabilise a section of foreshore next to Bareki Road, Eleebana in the 1980s.

It worked with residents on the problem ’’to save their homes’’, but it no longer used black slag as fill.

The council was ’’unaware of exposed black slag’’ along the Eleebana shore.

‘‘Now that it has been discovered, the material will be assessed and managed in accordance with council procedures,’’ it said.

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