Toxic Truth: Boolaroo Action Group seeks community rep on panel

THE state government should learn from past failures and allow a community representative on  the  expert panel set up to investigate pollution in north Lake Macquarie, Boolaroo Action Group says.

Spokesman Jim Sullivan said the community would have ‘‘no confidence’’ in the process unless it was represented.

‘‘This is the second or third taskforce they have set up over the years to look at the issue and nothing has been effective so far,’’ he said.

‘‘Without community representation, this new group will be the same as all the others. Nothing will have changed except the faces.’’

The Lead Expert Working Group was announced in November  in response to the Newcastle Herald’s Toxic Truth investigation that has questioned the effectiveness of a program designed to deal with heavy metal pollution in suburbs around the old smelter site at Cockle Creek.

Chaired by the EPA, the group’s members include representatives from NSW Health, Lake Macquarie Council, Macquarie University, University of Sydney and an independent site auditor.

Its first meeting on  Wednesday  focused on the group’s terms of reference. 

One of the priorities identified was to establish a strategy to communicate the group’s findings to the community.

Mr Sullivan said a community representative on the panel would solve that problem.

But Environment Minister Rob Stokes said on Thursday the aim of the group was to bring leading experts in  lead contamination and environmental health together to consider actions taken  to limit exposure of children to lead.

Mr Stokes said the group was ‘‘committed to ensuring that the community, including the Boolaroo Action Group, was kept up-to-date and consulted on the group’s findings’’.

Mr Sullivan said he could not understand the determination by authorities to exclude a community representative.

He said a community meeting was being organised for   mid to late January and a representative could be  elected in time for the expert group’s next meeting in February.

‘‘There are a range of people that could be interested in the job and we believe it is crucial to make sure this whole process, that they want us to have confidence in, is open and transparent,’’ Mr Sullivan said.

‘‘All we want is someone to stand on the side of the community and represent community views, we hardly think that is too much to ask.’’

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