Northern Lake Macquarie Lead Abatement Strategy

6th May 2015

Mr GREG PIPER: My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment. With the Environment Protection Authority [EPA] appointed Lead Expert Working Group currently reviewing the effectiveness of the Lead Abatement Strategy in northern Lake Macquarie, will the Minister assure the community that the Government will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that health risks from legacy lead contamination are eliminated?

Mr MARK SPEAKMAN: I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question and his continued advocacy on this important issue. The former Pasminco smelter left a legacy of contaminated land in the north Lake Macquarie area. An area with more than 2,000 properties around the smelter was affected, with many having high levels of lead in soil and in other materials, such as ceiling dust. Many properties also contain lead slag from the former smelter. In many cases, this slag was transported to the properties by the owners before the risks associated with the material were widely understood. Let me make this absolutely clear: Public health is, and always will be, at the forefront of everything the Government does on this issue. To address this historical legacy the Liberal-Nationals Government implemented the Lead Abatement Strategy, which aimed to achieve minimisation or elimination of exposure pathways to lead in private residences. Works were performed by the Pasminco administrators, Ferrier Hodgson. The works were endorsed by the Environment Protection Authority [EPA] and the Department of Planning, and accepted by NSW Health.

Under the strategy, about 2,500 private residential property owners in the vicinity of the former Pasminco smelter were eligible to have their properties tested for lead levels. Of these, 1,231 accepted the offer to have testing carried out. The results of the testing were independently reviewed and verified by a third party, independent environmental consultant and provided to the residential property owners. The lead levels were assessed against action levels in the Lead Abatement Strategy. Abatement works were offered to 437 residential properties, of which 359 accepted the offer. Educational materials were provided to the other 784 property owners with lower levels of lead. Recently, there has been increased community concern about lead levels in Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point, and about the effectiveness of the Lead Abatement Strategy. In response to these concerns, the EPA has established and chairs a new expert working group.

The group was established in December 2014 and it meets regularly. It includes members who are experts in health, lead research and contaminated site rehabilitation. The members of the group are: Adam Gilligan, EPA Manager Hunter Region, who chairs it; John Coffey, EPA; Craig Dalton, NSW Health; Dean Chapman, Lake Macquarie City Council; Professor Mark Taylor, Macquarie University; Associate Professor Stephen Cattle, University of Sydney; and Graeme Nyland, EPA-accredited contaminated site auditor and remediation consultant. The group will consider actions taken to date to limit exposure of children to lead and, if needed, actions to provide options for further lead management. The Lead Expert Working Group is overseeing the tender process for a literature review of best-practice lead remediation, to inform decisions about the success of the Lead Abatement Strategy and about future actions required. The group will make recommendations to government on any actions required in the future, informed by new blood test results, to further address lead contamination in the area. This is particularly appropriate where exposure pathways are identified. The group will be responsible for identifying and prioritising future actions.

The Lead Expert Working Group will also review the results of the new blood lead monitoring program being planned by NSW Health. Blood lead testing will take place this year for children under the age of five from the north Lake Macquarie area to ascertain whether children have elevated blood lead levels. Ongoing survey evidence of blood lead levels since the closure of the smelter has not identified elevated blood lead levels in children in the area since 2009. I hope that the new survey will provide evidence that this trend is continuing. Depending on access to new testing equipment, which is the subject of United States Food and Drug Administration approval, the testing will commence in the next few months and be concluded later this year.

All of these are the actions of a responsible Government. The EPA has also established the Lake Macquarie Lead Community Reference group. I am pleased to say that the member for Lake Macquarie was appointed as the independent chair of the group in February. The members of the group are: Karen McCraw, school representative; Nicole Gerrard, community representative; Emma Hale, community representative; Anne Sullivan, community representative; Tony Cade, community representative; Lloyd Hill, business representative; Wendy Harrison, council representative; and Rob Denton, council representative. The community reference group will provide a link between communities in the northern Lake Macquarie region and the Lead Expert Working Group. This is a critical link in ensuring that the people who are affected most directly by the legacy of the Pasminco smelter are at the forefront of local public health considerations—as they rightly should be. I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question and I assure him that public health will always be this Government's first priority.

The SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the member for Kiama, I welcome to the public gallery Mr Stephen Jones, who is a guest of the Leader of the House, and member for Lane Cove.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate

<< Previous | Next >>