LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News vol 6 no 1,  1998ISSN 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.

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Air in Port Kembla

The Carr Government is Allowing the Residents of the Illawarra region to be Poisoned…

A report from IRATE (Illawarra Residents Against Toxic Environments)

A smelter that was closed because pollution control mechanisms required by the EPA were too expensive may now be allowed to reopen, despite serious ongoing concerns about pollution from the smelter.

A Japanese Consortium, consisting of the companies Nissho Iwai and Furukawa, have been given approval to resume production of copper at the site previously owned by Southern Copper Ltd. Production is set to resume in 1999, once the site has undergone a massive upgrade and expansion.

The site has been inactive since Southern Copper Ltd was forced to cease operations in February 1995 as they could not afford to implement pollution control mechanisms that the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) were insisting be installed. The EPA directive had arisen primarily due to intense community pressure. Southern Copper were still reeling financially from having to pay massive compensation claims for damage caused to cars, clothing, houses and persons as a result of acid rain generated from the smelting process.

What residents were forced to endure in this day and age was draconian. Every day the plant emitted dangerous substances, and school children would be rushed indoors to prevent the onset of headaches, vomiting and dizzy spells. Windows in the area were kept permanently closed in an attempt to prevent odours and emissions. Fumes provoked coughing fits from which people's chests hurt for weeks and would overpower people to the point of vomiting and collapse. Iron sulphates falling from the sky would burn holes in people's skin. People were unwittingly making themselves ill by eating contaminated vegetables from their backyard gardens. Acid rain and particles would damage buildings, cars and washing. Residents have described the pollution as being 'so thick you could taste it'.

When residents found out that the smelter was to reopen they formed an action group called IRATE. Many residents have worked tirelessly on this issue because of their concern for the health of their families and fellow residents. Helen Hamilton, a resident who lives at the base of the smelter, initiated legal proceedings against the developers and Department of Urban Affairs and Planning on the basis that proper procedure was not followed and as a consequence residents were not adequately informed about the redevelopment. On the eve of her case going to court, Ms Hamilton and those who assisted her in the case were appalled when the Carr Government introduced a special Bill into parliament the Port Kembla Development (Special Provisions) Bill which granted consent to the development and rendered any court proceedings irrelevant. The Bill subsequently became legislation effectively silencing residents concern about the smelter.

SOME FRIGHTENING FACTS ABOUT THE SMELTER

  • Port Kembla Copper Smelter is located in a residential area. Most smelters are located in uninhabited deserts.

  • Only 12 residents out of 7000 were notified of the redevelopment during the "comprehensive" public consultation period.

  • Port Kembla Primary School is currently located directly at the base of the smelter. In an attempt to quieten community concern, Mr. Carr announced that the school would be moved. However, the new school site is only 800 metres away and the fallout will be even worse than the previous site.

  • St Patrick's Catholic School is located a few blocks away from the smelter and St Stephen's preschool is located opposite the smelter.

  • If reopened, the smelter will be the largest lead and sulphur dioxide polluter in NSW.

  • The smelter will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Emissions from the smelter will include cadmium, arsenic, chromium, cobalt (all carcinogens), sulphur dioxide, copper, iron, mercury, zinc & lead.

  • The following suburbs have and will be affected by smelter emissions Port Kembla, Kemblawarra, Warrawong, Primbee, Coniston, Berkeley, Lake Heights, Mangerton, Wollongong West and Warilla.

  • A "Child Blood Lead" study determined Port Kembla to be a community at risk from lead contamination.

  • The Director-General of the EPA described the Minister's decision to allow the reopening of the development as "madness".

  • During 1991-1994 the smelter breached pollution control standards every day it was operating. The current developers were part owners during this period.

  • The developers claim that they will install a world class $170 million pollution control system. It has become clear, however, that they are only going to use 1 part of this 3-part pollution control system and that it will be second hand. No smelter in the world has been able to achieve the standards the developers claim will be reached.

  • In Queenstown, TAS, copper production operations similar to the Port Kembla Copper Smelter have resulted in the eradication of all vegetation within a 15km radius of the site.

  • The NSW Health Department has identified Wollongong as having a cancer rate four times higher than expected.

  • Bob Carr says the Illawarra region is crying out for jobs and that it needs the smelter. The reopening of the copper smelter will create only 270 jobs. Surely, in this case, the costs far outweigh the benefits of this development for the Illawarra region. Local residents will be slowly poisoned while large corporations make huge profits…

ILLAWARRA RESIDENTS WILL NOT ALLOW THE COPPER SMELTER TO REOPEN

  • The University of Wollongong SRC and IRATE (Illawarra Residents Against Toxic Environments), a community action group, are involved in a campaign which opposes the reopening of Southern Copper Smelter at Port Kembla…

  • Helen Hamilton's court case must be allowed to proceed via the Port Kembla Development (Special Provisions) Act 1997 being repealed.

  • A comprehensive public consultation process must be undertaken which incorporates an extensive release of all information regarding the smelter's pollution emissions and their impact on health and the environment. This should be undertaken for all future industrial developments in urban environments.

  • Considering the uncertainty regarding the type, extent and effect of pollution emissions from the copper smelter, the expansion, upgrade and the smelter's reopening should not proceed until the uncertainty is removed.

  • The University of Wollongong SRC is outraged that the Carr Government possesses the power to stop a court case, which challenges the validity of the development consent, from proceeding. It is unconstitutional in the sense that it blurs the roles of the legislature, the judiciary and the executive, thereby violating the doctrine of the separation of powers and destroying the principles of due process and democracy.

  • Further, we are outraged that the NSW Parliament perceives the lack of public consultation concerning the redevelopment as a "legal technicality" and that this perception, under-mines the importance of the legal process as a mechanism of governmental accountability.

For more information about the campaign call Olive Rodwell on (02) 4274 4935, after 2pm, or David Gilmour on (02) 4275 1110.

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