‘Forgotten town’ wants asbestos wasteland gone
By Vassil Malandris
Updated 13 minutes ago
Video: The town where asbestos lies around for decades (7.30)
Map: Terowie 5421
For decades an asbestos wasteland has stretched across a South Australian town, yet the body responsible for cleaning it up is in no hurry to press the panic button, leaving locals despairing for their health.
The asbestos in the township of Terowie, 220 kilometres north of Adelaide, is not an illegal dump.
It is the property of the South Australian Government and yet there is no fence, no warning signs and no hurry to clean it up despite fears it could be blowing particles straight into a nearby playground and school.
Dave Perron came across the dump two years ago when he moved to Terowie.
“I walked down to the southern rail yards and saw just the massive asbestos down there,” he said.
“It blew me away that it had been there for so long and nobody had bothered to clean it up.
“The ground is just covered with broken up fragments of asbestos. It extends for well over 200 metres from the bottom of the southern platform to up at the cemetery.”
Mr Perron says the overall extent of the contamination stretches for up to three kilometres.
Forty-year-old roof sheeting and broken pieces now line a popular walking trail belonging to a camping site.
People have been complaining about this for years and the State Government has just forgotten us. Terowie is a forgotten town.
Residents like Mr Perron fear many pieces are so small and indiscernible, someone could easily walk on the asbestos and not realise the risk.
“I have young grandchildren who want to come over here and explore the buildings, the old train station and the old train line,” he said.
“To do that they have to walk on this asbestos. I won’t allow them here because I don’t want my grandchildren in 30 years time to be diagnosed with mesothelioma.”
Locals say Terowie has become a forgotten town.
It was once a bustling railway stop and important staging camp for allied forces during World War II.
Its most famous visitor, General Douglas MacArthur, came to Terowie in 1942 and declared “I shall return”.
He never did.
Terowie’s decline was sealed in the early 1970s when the train station was abandoned and dismantled leaving behind the asbestos wreckage.
Mr Perron says locals have long been concerned about the threat.
“People have been complaining about this for years and the State Government has just forgotten us. Terowie is a forgotten town,” he said.
We’ve got the right to have water, we’ve got the right to breathe air that’s healthy and our kids to play without being sick.
Terowie resident Donna
Terowie’s contamination concerns are not limited to asbestos.
Local MP Dan van Holst Pellekaan says the town’s water supply has high levels of lead and e-coli.
“Towns on the Barrier Highway from Terowie to Cockburn receive water from SA Water that is way, way below the quality that anybody else in the state would expect,” he said.
“In many cases you can’t drink it. We’ve actually uncovered cases where people have been told they can drink it if they boil it but it has unacceptable levels of lead in it.”
The water, which is pumped from a nearby dam through asbestos pipes, is four times more expensive than Adelaide’s supply but deemed unfit for human consumption, with tests often showing high levels of e-coli.
But not everyone is turning their back on Terowie.
Geoff Maul suffers from asbestosis after 27 years of exposure to the deadly dust.
He now spends much of his retirement fighting to clean up sites like the one in Terowie.
“I’ve never seen nothing like it. It’s totally disgraceful,” he said.
Residents say they have received assurances in the past from authorities that the asbestos pieces are safe and non-friable, which means they cannot be broken up or crumbled.
But at a town meeting, Mr Maul felt compelled to deliver a different message to locals.
“It’s sweeping it off, it’s vibrating like sand paper and it’s putting those asbestos fibres into the atmosphere that is coming over your town,” he said.
The Environment Protection Authority and SA Environment Department issued statements telling 7.30 they are meeting later in the week but will not commit to a time frame for the clean-up.
It appears a 40-year-old problem is not going away any time soon.
For some, like local Donna, it is too much to cope with.
“It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s the water or the asbestos anything, they don’t care about Terowie,” she said.
“We’ve got the right to have water, we’ve got the right to breathe air that’s healthy and our kids to play without being sick.”
Topics: asbestos, health, states-and-territories, community-and-society, terowie-5421, sa, renmark-5341, port-pirie-5540
First posted Tue Feb 26, 2013 8:38pm AEDT
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