Sydney residents fear Orica contamination
By Andrew Frampton, AAPUpdated January 20, 2013, 2:23 pm
Worried residents want the NSW government to test soil around a southern Sydney Orica chemical plant for mercury contamination, saying they don’t trust the company’s assurances the area is safe.
Concerns have been raised over whether Orica has properly investigated decades-old off-site contamination.
If the area is contaminated, thousands of residents living close to the plant could be at risk from toxic mercury, which damages nerves and is dangerous for children and pregnant women.
And despite repeated calls for the chemical company to conduct off-site testing, residents say Orica has refused.
Mother-of-two Chantal Snell says she is concerned for the health of her young family.
“We want reassurances from Orica to provide us with confirmation they’re not putting us at risk,” Ms Snell told reporters outside the Port Botany plant on Sunday.
Ms Snell said she had already taken some precautions, such as removing the family’s vegetable patch, even though she was yet to experience any negative health issues.
“Health risks emerge over time, so whilst they might not be immediately apparent, who’s to say children who are very susceptible might not suffer later on in life?” she said.
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) says there is no reason for alarm.
“We have no evidence to suggest that the contamination is more widely spread and there is no evidence to suggest that there is any off-site environmental or health risk,” EPA acting CEO Mark Gifford told Macquarie Radio.
However, Andrew Helps, who heads a mercury remediation company and is a member of the UN’s global mercury partnership, says tests should be conducted on the air and soil around houses and apartments in a 1.25 km radius.
“Orica has never investigated or quantified the mercury vapour and mercury absorbed on to particles that have travelled off-site into surrounding residential properties,” he told Fairfax.
Fairfax said its own investigations also showed high concentrations of mercury in sediment in a nearby estuary and at low levels along the shoreline near container facilities.
Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said if high levels of mercury contamination were found in the streets around the Port Botany plant it could be much more serious than the leak of toxic hexavalent chromium from the company’s Kooragang Island plant, which drifted over a Newcastle suburb in 2011.
She said if Orica would not undertake off-site testing, then NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker should intervene.
“What Orica needs to do as a very good corporate citizen is to test soil off-site, and go into homes and undertake independent testing,” Ms Faehrmann told reporters.
Orica has told Fairfax it isn’t opposed to further testing and would consider this if its stakeholders support the idea.
Last January and in September 2011 the company reported higher than permitted levels of mercury vapour emissions from Port Botany.