Lake Macquarie City Council accused of burying the truth over toxic waste disposal

TOXIC: Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan with black slag found on the lake foreshore in 2015 after heavy storms.
TOXIC: Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan with black slag found on the lake foreshore in 2015 after heavy storms.

LAKE Macquarie City Council has been accused of “burying the truth” after repeatedly refusing to reveal where it dumps lead-contaminated soil.

Residents are demanding to know what the council has to hide and said it should publicly state what is does with lead-laden dirt or slag - a toxic waste product from the former Pasminco lead and zinc smelter - that is excavated during public works.

A council spokeswoman said lead-contaminated soil and slag is “generally” buried or covered with 200mm of topsoil to create a cap.

“Due to the costs of disposal, we manage lead-contaminated soil through on-site containment wherever possible,” she said.

“If that was not possible, we would dispose of material to an appropriately licensed facility.”

However, the council refused to name the facility it uses and the Environment Protection Authority confirmed there are none in the Hunter.

Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan questioned what the council had to hide.

“It’s a pretty simple question, I don’t understand why they can’t answer it,” he said.

“They would be dealing with a lot of this material all the time, it was dumped all over the place, why can’t they be transparent about what they are doing with it?” 

Hundreds of tonnes of dangerous heavy metals were emitted from the stacks of the former Cockle Creek smelter over 106 years, polluting private and public land across Boolaroo, Speers Point and Argenton.

Up to 3 million tonnes of black slag was distributed through Lake Macquarie and the Hunter. It was given away for free and used in public reserves, parks, ovals and on the lake shore for landscaping. Many residents unknowingly used the small black, gritty material that contains lead, arsenic, cadmium and antimony in their yards.

A 1992 CSIRO report found slag could leach into the environment and be absorbed into the body.

Mr Sullivan questioned why the council was allowed to bury the contamination, when residents weren’t.

“If you want to bury this stuff it needs to be under a concrete slab or have a membrane in place to ensure it doesn’t leach out into the groundwater,” he said. 

Fairfax Media revealed on Tuesday that residents still have nowhere to legally dump lead soil following closure of the containment cell on the former Pasminco site in 2015.

The Environment Protection Authority announced last year that residents would be able to take lead soil to Newcastle City Council’s Summerhill tip in February, then August and now some time in October.

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