EVEN now Christine Latham doesn't want to believe its true.
Like many homeowners, the Argenton nurse and her husband Ben had plans to make the most of the latest low interest rate reprieve to lift mortgage repayments and get out of debt sooner.
That was until she learnt that the couple, like 3000 other north Lake Macquarie homeowners, had somehow been made responsible for the lead pollution that spewed from the stacks of the Boolaroo Pasminco smelter that operated for more than 100 years.
Instead of paying down debt, the Lathams are being forced to borrow an extra $90,000 on their mortgage to pay for the clean up of lead pollution that Pasminco left in their yard.
Mrs Latham has a clear memory of the day she was told she and her husband were responsible for the heavy industry contamination.
"I initially didn't understand any of it," she said.
"It was very confusing and it took a fair bit to get my head around it all. Then I realised that we would have no choice but to put the cost on our mortgage."
At last count, the Lathams will add $90,000 to their home loan and have paid $12,000 from their savings to deal with the lead pollution.
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Eight locations were tested for lead on their 1450sqm block and one was above the safety guidelines.
Like many in the Boolaroo, Speers Point and Argenton contamination zone, they can't understand why residents are being forced to pay for the polluters' mess.
"This has affected the future of the rest of our lives in relation to what we can afford," Mrs Latham said.
"It's completely unfair and I think its disgusting that the government can sit back and let this happen.
"To say that its added stress and caused great upset would be putting it lightly. It's almost impossible to believe it's been allowed to get to this."
Residents are speaking out about the "injustice" after the NSW government announced this week it would acquire the former Pasminco site, paving the way for Costco, IKEA and residential developments, potentially unlocking more than $1.8 billion in economic benefit.
The deal is expected to cost millions with the government taking responsibility for the long-term maintenance and monitoring of the 45-metre-deep containment cell at the site, that holds 1.9 million cubic metres of hazardous material, a water treatment plant and other contaminated land.
Boolaroo Action Group spokesman Jim Sullivan, who used to work as an environmental officer at Lake Macquarie City Council, said it was "highly inappropriate" that residents had to pay for the clean up.
"People are being forced to load up their home loans for something they did not cause, there is no fairness in this," he said.
"The government could not possibly think that it's alright to let this continue and leave these residents out on a limb like this. This needs to be fixed, once and for all. The contaminated material needs to be removed."
On Friday, the Newcastle Herald sent five questions to NSW Environment Minister Matthew Kean about the pollution scandal. A spokeswoman said the minister would meet with the community and Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper to discuss concerns about the contamination.
A spokesman for the EPA responded to the questions saying that residents who do not wish to redevelop their properties do not have to remediate their land.
"Not every development will necessarily require land remediation," he said. "There has been a long-standing education program on how residents can live safely with lead and lead slag in the ground."
Thousands of homes in a "lead grid", drawn up in 1995, still contain levels of lead in soil significantly higher than national health guidelines of 300 parts per million.
The highly-contentious grid is used to determine where the highest levels of pollution from the smelter, that closed in 2003, are.
It was originally established not to determine lead-contaminated properties, but to decide which children should be tested for elevated lead levels in blood.
For a development application to be considered in the grid, residents must test and remediate the soil if it is above 300 parts per million.
Residents were previously able to dump lead-contaminated soil at no cost in the containment cell on the former Cockle Creek smelter site. When the cell was capped in early 2015, residents were left with the burden of disposing of the soil.
The only place in the Hunter it can be taken is Newcastle City Council's Summerhill tip, that will only accept the soil in bulka bags weighing no more than 500kg. It costs about $290 a tonne to dispose of the contaminated soil.
A Boolaroo resident, who asked not to be identified because he has applied for a development application with Lake Macquarie City Council, said he was facing a $90,000 bill to remediate his land, a cost that would be added to his mortgage.
He said council staff informed him while his land had to be scrapped back to clean soil, the footpath - that is the responsibility of council - didn't.
It's estimated that once 150mm of dirt is scrapped from his yard, it will fill 440 bulka bags.
Roughly 20 bulka bags can fit on a truck, meaning the truck will have to do more than 20 loads from Boolaroo to Summerhill tip.
"I was told it would be five days work for one truck, all because they make you put it into bags," he said. "We just need a place where we can tip the lead soil in truck loads for free, it's really not asking too much.
"I'd be happy to pay for the labour, but why should we have to pay to dump it? They are making money from us and we are cleaning up Pasminco's mess."
Several residents recounted a story of a resident who dumped lead soil illegally, got caught and was fined $10,000. Mark Hambier, who buried lead soil under his Boolaroo house, said a $10,000 fine was much cheaper than doing the "right thing".
"Residents aren't asking for much, they need a place to get rid of this stuff for free," he said. "It's disgusting what is going on out here. The government should be ashamed of itself for placing this burden on its citizens."
A chorus of Hunter MPs joined the residents this week imploring the government to help the residents.
Pasminco administrator Ferrier Hodgson, that was purchased by professional services giant KPMG earlier this year, pocketed well in excess of $35 million in fees since being appointed to clean up the old Pasminco site and claw back cash for creditors.
Reports prepared by Ferrier Hodgson for creditors in 2014 revealed it was paid on average $2.55 million a year since it was appointed in September 2001, or more than $49,000 a week.
The insolvency firm took on the role of property developer at the smelter site in a bid to maximise returns for Pasminco's 39 creditors, finance companies owed $2.6 billion.
The government has estimated the creditors were paid out at least $550 million.
Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper conceded in parliament that the outcome for residents could have been better. Mr Piper said he would discussing the matter with Mr Kean.
"Possibly we did not get the best outcome for the community but it is what it is, and we now have to move forward," he said.
The EPA spokesman said $400,000 had been allocated to Lake Macquarie City Council to run a community grant program to assist people where there are identified health issues, such as elevated lead levels in blood.
A further $400,000 was provided to council to employ a specialist to help residents manage the legacy lead contamination.
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