Toxic Truth: Waiver deal could face legal challenge

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.

A WAIVER that north Lake Macquarie residents signed in which they agreed not to make any claim against Pasminco could be challenged on legal grounds, Boolaroo Action Group says.

Residents had to sign an agreement to participate in the Lead Abatement Strategy, which Pasminco administrator Ferrier Hodgson conducted.

The agreement included a clause that participants not ‘‘make any claim or exercise any right’’ relating to the ‘‘winding up’’ of Pasminco.

It stated that the abatement strategy ‘‘will not be repeated and that future owners will therefore not be eligible for participation or have any right to make a claim’’.

Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan questioned whether the waiver would stand.

‘‘I would think all bets are off,’’ Mr Sullivan said. 

‘‘If we could get organised, we might be able to take some legal action against them.

‘‘I’m hoping there might be some corporate high-flying lawyers that might take it on.’’

Soil and dust samples collected by Macquarie University revealed alarmingly high levels of lead and heavy metal contamination still present in the suburbs around the former smelter.

Ferrier Hodgson director Richard Bastow said the abatement strategy ‘‘finished two years ago’’.

‘‘It was done in accord with council and government requirements,’’ he said. ‘‘It was an opt-in free program, we spent a lot of money on it and we were quite happy with it – it’s run its course.’’

NSW Environment Protection Authority director of contaminated land and environmental health Craig Lamberton said Ferrier Hodgson had ‘‘done a very good job’’.

‘‘They’ve played hardball, but they have come to the party,’’ Mr Lamberton said.

 He  said that ‘‘when Pasminco went broke and abandoned the place and administrators took over, I thought this was going to be an absolute disaster. 

‘‘It has worked out pretty good and we’re pretty happy with it,’’ he said.

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