LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 10 no 4, June 2010, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor-in-Chief: Anne Roberts

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West Coast Council Mayor Darryl Gerrity Backflips on Responsibility

By Isla MacGregor

When the Rosebery contamination issues were first reported in the media, West Coast Mayor Darryl Gerrity supported the residents in their quest for an investigation into their concerns and for relocation from their homes by the State Government.

Mayor Gerrity had previously supported the Oates family from Gormanston in the lead poisoning outbreak in Queenstown in 2000.

[Gormanston is south of Rosebery and to the east of Queenstown – see map of the Municipality of West Coast, of which Mr Gerrity is the mayor, in the leading article.]

This was reported in detail by Elizabeth O'Brien in LEAD Action News Worst Case of Lead Poisoning and Tasmanian Government Inaction LAN Vol. 8 No 3, www.lead.org.au/lanv8n3/lanv8n3.html. It therefore came as a surprise to see Mayor Gerrity's attitude on lead poisoning issues dramatically change and eventually lead him to publicly attack poisoned residents from Rosebery in the media.

Since 2006, three neighbouring residents, later to become involved in the Department of Health and Human Services/Environment Protection Authority (DHHS/EPA) investigation, had considerable problems with West Coast Council over drainage issues on their properties. The work that Council carried out in 2006 in an attempt to remedy the drainage problems was not effective, and led to increased drainage problems on all properties. In 2008 Council returned to put a pit and more drains on one property, which failed overnight.

In December 2008 Mayor Gerrity met for an hour with three of the residents involved in the DHHS/EPA investigation.After the investigations commenced and the Final Report was released in April 2009, Mayor Gerrity's support for the residents dramatically changed into a major backflip.

Interestingly, the issue of Council responsibility for drainage had been raised by Professor Brian Priestly on Page 17 of his Preliminary Report:

"During my site visit, I noted that the Council had installed some drains in the properties in question, in an attempt to collect and re-direct the water flow. In some cases, this appeared to direct water flow near to and possibly underneath the houses on these properties. I formed an impression that the installed drains had failed to fully resolve the problems of water seepage on these properties, although they may have been partially successful in re-directing some of the water flow". [see Arsenic and Heavy Metals…” article, above.]

When, in June 2009, the residents wrote to Dr Roscoe Taylor calling for the findings in the Final Report to be quashed, they made repeated attempts to meet with Mayor Gerrity to have further discussions. Eventually Mayor Gerrity agreed to meet with them in January 2010, but this meeting was cancelled due to ill health of one of the residents.

Earlier Media reports/statements from Mayor Gerrity and the West Coast Council

from The Advocate 7-11-08: 'Gerrity backs push to move fearful residents'

“If the people feel that way then I'd support it,............................The Government would have to help them (financially) and if the EPA (Environment Protection Authority) and the Health Department have to do a long- term study on this issue it may be prudent to move them.

I will go and have a look during the week and see what we can resolve on drainage issues.”

from The Advocate 13-11-08 'Council may shift residents'

'The West Coast Council may temporarily move three Rosebery residents away from seepage they believe is making them sick.

The Council will look at moving the three while it undertakes works in their yards in a bid to fix the metal-laden seepage...............'

from The Advocate 19-11-08 'Murchison St area 'poisoning hot spot'

'West Coast Mayor Darryl Gerrity is also coming to believe the small area of Murchison St and Clemons St is a “hot spot”............ “I'm saying yes, but I'm qualifying that (because) I'm still finding it hard to put the jigsaw together............................It needs getting base data that is there now and ongoing tests to see if the base data fluctuates.”

He said the State Government should continue testing and start treating residents.

He said he would support the Government if it decided to move the three residents who own the homes as they are disability pensioners and say they cannot afford to move.............................'

Backflip after........................

from ABC Stateline 5-2-10 Extract Transcript

'DARRYL GERRITY, CHAIRMAN, ROSEBERY COMMUNITY REFERENCE GROUP: Who are concerned that their lifestyle, their image, their future is being tarnished by accusations without substance from afar and they want it all put to rest one way or the other.'

from The Mercury 18-3-10 'Toxicity warning sought Rosebery claims probed'

'West Coast mayor Darryl Gerrity said it was deplorable that one group of former residents was trying to scare other Rosebery residents, potential residents and tourists without scientific proof to back their toxicity claims'

from The Mercury 10-6-10 Rosebery rated investor poison

'The report has West Coast mayor Darryl Gerrity fuming. He said those who claimed to be sick had triggered investigations which still had not proved the town is contaminated.'

from The Advocate 15-6-10 Toxins Taskforce aims at council

“Because I don't agree with wild claims. Their claims are getting wilder and they're fast losing their credibility.”

West Coast Council fails to act – Mayor Gerrity should stand down

Kay Seltitzas and Marsha Stejskal made three requests to West Coast Council Aldermen to have their numerous concerns dealt with by Council. West Coast Council failed to address these concerns; instead, they passed the buck to the DHHS in relation to requests submitted in October 2009/January 2010 and then passed the buck to the Rosebery Community Reference Group Committee for questions submitted to Council in June 2010. On 10th June 2010, the Taskforce put out a Media Release 'Mayor Darryl Gerrity a Disgrace to the West Coast', calling on Mayor Gerrity to stand down from his position as Chairman of the Community Reference Group and Mayor because of his bias and appalling public statements. www.lead.org.au/mr/20100610 Toxic_Heavy_Metals_Taskforce.htmlf

The following correspondence was emailed to the General Manager of West Coast Council Peter Harder and all Aldermen:

October 2009

Re: Application for completion of drainage works, or declaration of a drainage district at 12 to 14 Murchison Street, Rosebery.

General Manager and Environmental Health Officer,West Coast Council.

We write to request West Coast Council (WCC):

Provide appropriate drainage to: 1) prevent seepage onto our properties, 2) protect our health, 3) ensure our safety and 4) prevent environmental nuisance.

We also request that WCC:

Make application to ‘The Minister’ David Llewellyn to declare: 12 and 14 Murchison Street, Rosebery (specifically) and the Rosebery Township (generally) a ‘drainage district’ in accordance with Section 169(2) of the Water Management Act 1999.

Chronology of events leading to this request

October 2008 - Council attempted to remedy some of the drainage issues at these two properties by installing an agricultural drain from 12 to 14 Murchison Street and connecting this into a drainage line located in the backyard of these homes. It failed shortly after the works had been carried out.

On the 9th of December 2008 Warren Jones (Director EPA) provided Kay Seltitzas with results of EPA sampling program conducted on her property and along Murchison / Primrose Streets nature strips.

The results showed that:

‘lead results exceeded the HIL in three samples, arsenic results exceeded the HIL in two samples, and manganese exceeded HILS in one sample.....I note that sample 'S08” collected in the rear (northeast) corner of your property has the highest levels. The surface soil at this site appeared to be influenced by runoff down a drainage line from the northwest.’

[Investigation levels provide a trigger to assist in judging whether a detailed investigation of a site is necessary.   www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/66E7D805C1C1AD69CA2573CC001

It is noteworthy that:

Surface soil sample S08 (collected from the northeast corner of backyard) had a lead level of 4580mg/kg. This is15 times the recommended Health Investigation Level (HIL) of 300mg/kg;

A subsurface soil sample (S07, collected from the front yard had an arsenic level of 649mg/kg. This is 6 times the recommended HIL of 100mg/kg

On the 15th July 2009, we (the owners of 12 and 14 Murchison Street, Rosebery) sent a written submission to the Mayor. The following points were made:

Kay Seltitzas had received injuries as a result of slipping in seepage water, flowing over the path which lead directly to her front door;

WCC should remedy the long standing drainage issues and associated health risks at both our properties;

WCC’s failure to remedy the drainage problems emanating from Murchison Street and runoff down the drainage line at the rear of the properties had caused material environmental harm and environmental nuisance;

Council's failure to remedy seepage water problems on our properties as a result of drainage problems has caused and is likely to pose a public health risk.

We were dissatisfied with the response to our request from Council's General Manager (Mr. Peter Harder) of 24th July 2009, which stated:

“Water is now the responsibility of Cradle Mountain Water due to the recent State Government reforms”.

Whilst, we accept Cradle Mountain Waters’ newly acquired jurisdiction over water / sewage treatment facilities and associated reticulation infrastructure. Water ingress into our property is primarily a drainage issue and thus falls outside the water boards’ jurisdiction. It remains Councils’ responsibility.

During a media release on the 2nd October 2008 Oz Mineral's spokesperson (Mr. Stuart Gula) stated that:

‘He understood that the issue of seepage water at these two properties had been an issue for some years...’ and that ‘OZ Rosebery was working closely with WCC on the issue’.

Oz Minerals Pty. Ltd. Subsequently contracted ‘Environmental Service and Design Pty Ltd’ (the consultant), to:

Sample water issuing into two residences at 12 and 14 Murchison Street;

Investigate possible water sources; and

Discuss the nature of the water emanation.

The report stated that:

‘The problem results from water entering the residences from the south and southwest, from Councils’ roadway and kerb’;

‘A survey of groundwater levels, perched water table levels and surface levels would be required to prove this conclusively;

‘There is some potential for this water to be sourced from Councils’ subsurface service lines, either from leaking stormwater pipes, (but unlikely to be water supply), or from service line trenches becoming conduits’.

Three potential solutions to the drainage issues were identified. Adoption of recommendation number three was proposed by the consultant. Namely;

‘Collect the subsurface water from the roadway using drains, and direct it to the existing stormwater system…this option…obviates any contact between the residents and the water, and is the cheapest option. Drains should be installed along the frontage, and sealed where possible from surface infiltration. Collected water could be piped to the rear drains, to preclude access. Council should address the problem using a licensed plumber.’

West Coast Council failed to adopt this measure.

We would like to remind Council that there are several Government Acts that need to be applied in consideration of our requests:

Councils are required to: “provide such common drains as may be necessary for effectually draining its municipality for the purpose of preserving the healthy of the inhabitants of its municipality” (ss3 & 14, Drains Act 1954);

Councils are required to: “provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community” (s.20(1)(a). Local Government Act 1993);

Councils are required to develop and implement strategies to promote and improve public health in their municipal area (s27, Public Health Act 1997);

Any public authority managing water must manage the water “in a manner that does not pose a threat to public health (s128, Public Health Act 1997); and

A Council must “use its best endeavours to prevent or control acts or omissions which cause or are capable of causing pollution” (s.20A, Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994).

We look forward to your response to our requests.

Marsha Stejskal and Kay Seltitzas

3 January 2010

ROSEBERY - Heavy Metal Poisoning

Dear Alderman,

We are writing to seek your support for the Rosebery heavy metal poisoning matters to be placed on the Agenda for the next West Coast Council Meeting and would like to have the opportunity to address Council in person about these issues. These issues relate to heavy metal poisoning of residents and pets in Rosebery, the relevant responsibilities that Council has to be involved with community and address some of these issues and the new Public and Environmental Health investigations into heavy metal poisoning being conducted in Rosebery, commencing in January this year.

We want the next Meeting of Council to discuss and resolve to take action on:

1. On the 21st December 2009 John Lamb, General Manager of MMG's Rosebery Mine announced that the mine would be conducting its own Environmental Investigation into heavy metal contamination in Rosebery and invited residents who wished to be involved in the environmental sampling program to contact the mine by the 22nd January 2010. On the 23rd December 2009 the Director of Health, Dr Roscoe Taylor, Department of Health and Human Services announced that the DHHS will be reopening an investigation into heavy metal poisoning in Rosebery as a consequence of Dr Andreas Ernst's diagnosis of several Rosebery residents heavy metal poisoning particularly with arsenic and lead. Media at the time also reported that the national legal firm Slater and Gordon were representing several Rosebery residents. Dr Ernst has diagnosed both of us with heavy metal poisoning and we have both evacuated from our homes in Rosebery. We are only two of many people we know who are extremely ill with heavy metal poisoning.

REQUEST FOR WCC ACTION: WCC needs to play a pro-active role in liaison and public meetings with affected or participating residents of Rosebery, MMG Rosebery Mine, DHHS and the EPA about the scope and conduct of the new Public and Environmental Health investigations into heavy metal contamination and poisoning in Rosebery.

2. In October 2009 we wrote to West Coast Council requesting that West Coast Council remedy drainage problems on our properties in Murchison Street, Rosebery, and that West Coast Council make application to the Minister David Llewellyn, to declare the township of Rosebery as a "Drainage District" in accordance with Section 169(2) of the Water Management Act 1999. The response we received from Peter Harder, General Manager WCC was completely unacceptable.

REQUEST FOR WCC ACTION: WCC, in light of recent developments, remedy the outstanding drainage problems on our properties that Council has responsibility for and reconsider our request for application to the Minister David Llewellyn for declaration of Rosebery as a Drainage District. The letter included as an Attachment below provides a chronology to the issues and that this be tabled for discussion at the next WCC Meeting.

3. In late December 2009 we were both issued with WCC Abatement Notices to cut "fire hazard growth" on our properties. Having evacuated our properties we advised John Devlin, Environmental Health Officer at WCC that we were unable to do this and that anyone who did would need to be trained to do so and would need to wear protective clothing. On the 28th December 2009, the public holiday, two men arrived on our properties to cut the fire hazard growth and then failed to remove the cuttings. They had no protective equipment. In January 2009, Dr Chrissie Pickin, DHHS arranged with WCC for DHHS to pay for the costs of Council cutting fire hazard growth on three properties in Rosebery, including our own; all residents at these properties have now been diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning and are extremely ill.

REQUEST FOR WCC ACTION: WCC to rescind the Abatement Notices issued to us and arrange with Dr Chrissie Pickin for DHHS to reimburse Council for any costs incurred for cutting of fire hazard growth on our properties.

We want to give a presentation and speak in person to Council about the seriousness of the above issues and we look forward to your response and support.

Yours Sincerely

Marsha Stejskal and Kay Seltitzas

8 June 2010

Questions on Notice

Dear Alderman,

The Toxic Heavy Metals Taskforce Tasmania would like to have the following Questions on Notice included in the AGENDA and answered at the next West Coast Council meeting:

1. As Chair of the Rosebery Community Reference Group, what action has Mayor Gerrity taken to make publicly available on the West Coast Council or other website Minutes of Meetings from the Rosebery Community Reference Group?

2. What information has Council received or follow up taken as a result of Council's decision in 16th May 2000 requesting: "That Council instructs the General Manager to write to the Minister for Health, the Department of Health, the Mines Department ........... requesting information on contaminated sites and on the testing for contamination of heavy metals throughout the West Coast area."?

3. Is the Council aware of any current general environmental sampling programs currently being undertaken throughout the West Coast area by the EPA or environmental consulting firms to assess for contamination by heavy metals and if so are Council providing any input into the design and implementation of these programs?

4. Is the Council selling or has it sold properties for outstanding rates, that are in Rosebery or other areas of the West Coast that are currently being tested or known to have very high levels of contamination from heavy metals, especially lead or arsenic, and if so, what information is being provided by Council with Certificate 337's to purchasers to advise about potential health risks?

5. Is the Council aware the EPA failed to require MMG Rosebery mine to:

  1.    Monitor for arsenic in the Environmental Protection Notice issued to the mine in August 2009

  2.   Monitor for Arsenic in the Permit Conditions for the new open cut mine at South Hercules, and what action will the Council take to ensure that this failure is remedied, given that Arsenic is classified as an A Grade carcinogen and is one of the emissions estimated in the National Pollutant Inventory for the Rosebery mine, and that levels up to six times the Health Investigation Levels have been found in soil in Rosebery?

Parks and Wildlife officers work to rescue one of the stranded Dolphins on the Pieman River. Picture: Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife. Reprinted with kind permission – courtesy of the Mercury Website, Hobart.

6. The deaths of 30 dolphins in the Pieman River was reported in The Hobart Mercury on 14th April:

"CSIRO marine ecologist Chris Wilcox happened to be holidaying in the area when he came across the dolphins.

"They were happy and frolicking and very robust on Friday but then when we saw them while we were kayaking on Sunday they were very sick," Dr  Wilcox said.

"I initially thought they had been caught in a rope of some kind so we stopped to try and help them and they were very sick.

"From my observations they appeared to be suffering from some sort of toxin poisoning."

"Parks spokeswoman Penny Sale said while she had not received any report of a toxic spill "every option would be investigated".

She said it was understood some of the dolphins would undergo an autopsy which would look at poisoning as a possible cause of death."

What action has the Council taken to seek information from Penny Sale, Parks Service or Warren Jones, EPA in relation to the investigation and results of autopsies and what further action will Council take in relation to supporting effective EPA/Parks monitoring programs for heavy metals and the effects on riverine and marine species in the Pieman or at the mouth of the Pieman River?

7. Is Council aware of any publicly available information from any Government authority or private company about heavy metal testing for fish, lobster etc caught or being farmed in Macquarie Harbour or on the west coast, and if so, where can this information be accessed?

We look forward to Council's response to our questions.

Yours Sincerely,

Marsha Stejskal and Kay Seltitzas

Toxic Heavy Metals Taskforce Tasmania

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