Action needed on Boolaroo lead disposal

21st March 2018

Source: Newcastle Herald | Editorial | Posted: March 21, 2018

BY the way the various authorities are dancing around the backyard lead contamination left behind by the Pasminco smelter, an observer could be forgiven for thinking we are dealing with some sort of highly radioactive or deadly poison that will kill on impact.

But we are not. It is simply soil with a concentration of lead above a level of 300 parts per million, which is the recommended health limit for exposure in residential situations.

It is a level of contamination that is faced by any number of post-industrial societies around the globe. 

Indeed, contamination at much higher levels has already been dealt with, successfully, on the Pasminco site itself, where a containment cell took highly contaminated materials both from the old plant, and soil from some of the properties that took part in the original lead abatement strategy that was drawn up more than a decade ago.

Yet all these years later, those residents whose properties – for whatever reason – are still possessed of lead-contaminated soil, are facing a bureaucratic merry-go-round that has gone on for far too long. 

Last year, they were finally promised a solution, when they were told they could take their soil to Newcastle’s Summerhill waste management facility. It soon emerged, however, that this was only if the waste was packed into small-scale “bulka bags” supplied by Summerhill.

Despite the shortcomings of the Newcastle proposal, Lake Macquarie City Council appears unwilling to take any of the soil at its Awaba landfill. 

Independent Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper – a former Lake mayor – says he doubts there is room at Awaba, but he does say there is no practical reason why a new containment cell cannot be created somewhere in the region to take the household soil. 

Mr Piper believes there are probably suitably degraded sites within the Lake Macquarie local government area. 

In the same way that contaminated material was contained on the Pasminco site, all it needs is an area to be contained by an impervious barrier, or to be high enough out of the water table to stop leaching, with a metre or so of clay capping, as happened at the Steel River industrial site at Mayfield. 

In blunt terms, it is not rocket science. It is an everyday remediation process that should have been finished years ago. Instead, we have enough protocols and procedures to sink a ship, and precious little progress to show for it.

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