Action News . 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.
The Carr Government is
Allowing the Residents of the Illawarra region to be Poisoned
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
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
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
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
Helen Hamilton's court case must be
allowed to proceed via the Port Kembla Development (Special Provisions) Act 1997 being
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
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.