IN November last year, the NSW government announced that the NSW Environment Protection Authority would be handed an extra $23.5 million in funds to help it better deal with contaminated land. 

Given that the residual suburban contamination left behind by Pasminco’s Boolaroo smelter was mentioned prominently in the announcement by Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton, observers could be forgiven at the time for thinking that a large amount of that money was headed this way.

Unfortunately, however, it appears that this is not the case. All up, it seems just $800,000 of that $23.5-million total is being put towards the human tragedy that is the Lake Macquarie lead contamination saga.

Lake Macquarie City Council is to receive $200,000 a year for four years, which will include an annual sum of $100,000 for a small grant fund that landholders will be able to access to assess their properties for contamination. As Boolaroo Action Group spokesperson Jim Sullivan says, it’s a paltry amount when it comes to the size of the problem we are dealing with. Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper agrees, saying the money is a slice of a very small pie. That being the case, it becomes all the more important to ensure that the money is spent as wisely as possible, and in such a way that it benefits those residents most affected.

 Late last year, the Coalition government agreed to adopt all 22 of the recommendations formulated by the Lead Expert Working Group put together by the EPA to “evaluate the effectiveness of the lead abatement strategy and other remediation activities relating to lead contamination arising from” the smelter.

Regardless of the official findings of the working group, it is fair to say that large numbers of people living near the former smelter are still between a rock and a hard place when it comes to removing the lead from their lives and their properties.

As well-intentioned as the 22 recommendations are, none of them go any real distance towards finding an affordable and equitable solution for those people facing substantial extra costs should they want to carry out any sort of construction on their properties. Ultimately, the only way that this social blight can end is for the state – if it can no longer pursue the polluter – to step in and fund a full-scale clean-up. Until this happens, everything else is little more than window-dressing.

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