Lake Macquarie City Council has been urged to conduct a risk assessment of soil in sporting and playing fields for toxic lead slag sourced from the former Pasminco Boolaroo lead smelter.
Macquarie University researchers Paul Harvey and Mark Patrick Taylor have made the recommendation as part of an assessment of the 2007 Lead Abatement Strategy that was established following the closure of the smelter in 2003.
Lead slag, which was produced as a by-product of the lead smelting process, was extensively used as landfill across the city for decades.
Drs Harvey and Taylor noted that while a significant amount of work has been done to reduce the legacy pollution, lead slag still poses a health risk.
“Risk of exposure might be more problematic in public spaces such as sporting fields, where short-term intermittent exposure to bio-accessible slag, soil and dust during sporting activities and play could result in sporadic blood lead fluxes,” the study, to be published in the scientific journal Applied Geochemistry, says.
“It would be prudent for the Lake Macquarie Council to conduct a soil assessment of all parks, playgrounds and sporting fields within the potential slag affected areas of the former smelter, using pXRF (portable x-ray device) to further characterise the potential risk of harm related to the use of these areas.”
The Newcastle Herald’s Toxic Truth investigation was awarded the 2015 United Nations World Environment Day award for highlighting the pollution risks associated with the former smelter.
The Lead Abatement Strategy was based on a grid bounded by Boolaroo, Speers Point, Argenton that was used as a guide to determine where the highest levels of pollution from the smelter were.
Drs Harvey and Taylor concluded the grid was a generally accurate guide to determining the pollution risk around the former smelter.
“Typically, soils beyond 2km from the former [smelter] contained lead concentrations below the Australian Health Investigation Level guideline. The data demonstrates that despite the ambiguous origin of the LAS grid, it is fit for purpose as an indicator of the extent of smelter-related environmental lead contamination,” the report says.
A Lake Macquarie City Council spokeswoman said the council had established a contaminated land risk and priority register to support implementation of the council’s environmental management plan for contaminated land.
“The register systematically documents land such as playing fields, parks and open space that are in council’s control, assesses the level of risk of contamination for each land parcel, and defines management actions where required,” she said “The level of risk considers the contaminant of concern, the area potentially affected by the contaminant and the level of use.”
The spokeswoman said black slag deposits presented a low health risk if the slag was covered.
“Black slag is generally managed on site, either by reburying the material or adding topsoil to a minimum depth of 200 millimetres and establishing cover in line with the council’s environmental management plan,” the spokeswoman said.
“Based on information from the Ministry of Health, occasional play in these areas would not give enough exposure to cause elevated blood lead levels.”