BOOLAROO residents have flagged major discrepancies in their soil lead test results, saying the levels have fluctuated in unexpected directions in the space of just three years.
Julie and Rick West found their front yard soil, which had an average lead level of 200 parts per million in 2011, returned readings of 710 and 950 when tested this year by the Newcastle Herald and Macquarie University.
Meanwhile, their backyard soil that had an average lead level of 1100 parts per million in 2011 recorded a level this year of 320.
‘‘There’s really no way to explain it,’’ Mrs West said.
The readings are made more confusing considering the couple’s limited participation in the Lead Abatement Strategy, under which they were offered two deliveries of topsoil in 2012. Instead, Mrs West said they were delivered ‘‘Maitland mud’’, which killed their grass.
‘‘We raked it up and put it in the bin and told them not to come back for the second layer because it was rubbish,’’ Mrs West said.
‘‘[Pasminco administrator] Ferrier Hodgson paid someone to clean up their act, but whoever it was just took their money and ripped them off. It was all lip service.’’
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The couple said they were ‘‘surprised – very surprised’’ at the level of lead in their household dust, which was not tested as part of the Lead Abatement Strategy.
Samples from their vacuum cleaner bag this year revealed a lead level of 800 parts per million, almost three times the national standard.
‘‘I used to vacuum at least once a week when the kids were little and I am now going to start vacuuming a lot more,’’ Mrs West said.
‘‘The only problem is that you can use a wet wipe to remove dust in the morning and another layer would have settled by the afternoon – it’s a pain, but that’s just the way it is.
‘‘It’s obviously still floating around in the air and I just hope that when the work [on the former site] finishes that the dust goes away.’’
The Wests had been living between Nelson Bay and the snowfields when they moved to Boolaroo in about 2001 with their infant daughter Sunnita, now 14.
‘‘We bought knowing Pasminco was here and we love Boolaroo, we’d never move,’’ Mrs West said.
‘‘The home is very open – we never shut the windows – and I’m not going to give that up.’’
Mrs West visited the Environmental Health Centre to learn how to best protect Sunnita and her younger brother Maliq, now 9, from ingesting or inhaling any excess lead.
She enforced rules including not wearing shoes inside the home, not playing in exposed dirt and ensuring they washed their hands regularly.
Regular blood lead level tests showed them to have very low levels.
‘‘But I still wouldn’t feel comfortable growing vegetables in the soil around here,’’ Mrs West said.
Just around the corner, exploration geologist James Kells is also intrigued by the comparison between his 2011 readings of 80 parts per million in his front yard and 830 in his backyard and the 2014 readings of 360 in his front yard and 940 in his backyard.
Ferrier Hodgson told him in 2011 no lead abatement action was required.
‘‘The new reading at the front seems unusually high, to increase by four-fold – I wouldn’t have expected such a jump,’’ Mr Kells said. ‘‘By this stage you would expect any residual lead – even if it was on the roof – would have been washed away.’’
Mr Kells said he was prepared to consider the differing backyard readings as a ‘‘statistical anomaly’’.
‘‘Some parts of the lawn are going to be higher than others,’’ he said. ‘‘When I’m digging around I occasionally find black slag, so there are going to be some spots that have higher lead levels than others.’’
A few streets away, George and Ruth Littles’ property also returned readings that were markedly different from their previous results.
The Littles were given a delivery of 25 millimetres of topsoil for their backyard, in April 2012, as part of lead abatement work.
When the lead level in their soil was tested this year the backyard returned a reading of 770, their front yard 2120 and their vacuum cleaner bag 1320.
‘‘When they gave us topsoil it was full of weeds,’’ Mr Little said. ‘‘They laid it about two months before winter and it was just bare throughout winter.’’
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