Caltex Contaminated Site — Northam

HON ROBIN CHAPPLE (Mining and Pastoral)[9.09 pm]: I rise tonight to highlight the plight of a couple who, through no fault of their own, find their home to be now a contaminated site. When they turned to the law for help, they were failed by the system that was, in fact, meant to ensure that contaminated sites were identified and remediated. Mr and Mrs Marston own a home at 80 Old York Road, Northam, which they bought in 1985. Caltex Australia owns the fuel depot, which operated from 1965 to 2001, next to the Marstons’ property.

Without notice, around 18 June 2007, contractors started demolishing the Caltex infrastructure. This included overhead tanks, loading bay and office buildings and, indeed, the contaminated soils underneath those buildings. After the loading bay was demolished, the sand from underneath was piled along the fence about two metres from the Marstons’ house. The contractors report excavating, stockpiling and then removing between 1 000 and 3 000 tonnes of soil. Initially, the stockpiles were not covered, and then black plastic was pulled over, which soon blew off. Visitors to the Marstons’ property report that the soil was dark with stains, that the heaped soils and deep holes reeked of noxious odours and they experienced sore throats, headaches and nausea within minutes of arriving at the Marstons’ property. At that time, to open a council approved home-based business, the Marstons had taken up the floorboards in the front room and removed the walls and ceiling cladding. The front of the house was extremely exposed and open to dust. Concerned about contamination, Mrs Marston immediately asked the contractor to put the soils elsewhere, but he refused to do so. She then approached the Northam town council and asked them to stop the works, but they refused. The following morning the smell made Mr and Mrs Marston both feel ill and they decided to go away for a few days until it was sorted out. That was the very last night they spent in their home. That was some four years ago. Subsequently the Marstons spent two weeks with friends and family and then they found holiday accommodation as the issue went on unresolved. They leased a bedsit and later moved into a rented unit. They replaced most of their possessions from the original house because of the contamination.

During 2007–08, works continued on the Caltex depot. Soil was piled on the Caltex depot near the Marstons’ home and “degassed”. Contractors removed 38 semitrailer loads of waste. In 2008 in accordance with Department of Environment and Conservation guidelines, the Marstons commissioned a primary site investigation of their property by Dingle and Bird Environmental Pty Ltd. The results showed soil contamination was found in four samples. The health investigation level for residential areas for aromatic hydrocarbons, C16 and C35, is 90 milligrams per kilogram. Three samples found contamination above this level. The highest of the dust samples, which was 540 milligrams per kilogram, also exceeds the level F industrial assessment levels. Two soil samples and the dust sample exceeded the ecological investigation level of total petroleum hydrocarbons of 1 000 milligrams per kilogram, ranging from 1 050 milligrams per kilogram to 3 420 milligrams per kilogram. Four soil samples and dust samples all exceeded the 300 milligrams per kilogram residential health investigation level for lead, with the highest concentration being 570 milligrams per kilogram and the lowest contaminated sample at 370 milligrams per kilogram. Zinc was also found in concentrations above the ecological investigation level of 200 milligrams per kilogram at three soil samples and the dust sample. Copper and chromium are also elevated in the dust samples. Copper was found at 99 milligrams per kilogram exceeding the ecological investigation levels of 60 milligrams per kilogram. Chromium was found at 63 milligrams per kilogram exceeding the ecological investigation levels of 50 milligrams per kilogram. As a result of this, the consultants concluded —

Results of Soil sampling and scrutiny of available data indicates there is Aromatic Hydrocarbon and Heavy Metal contamination present at the Site. Particularly concerning are the concentrations of Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Lead above Departmental of Environment and Conservation Health Investigation levels for standard residential sites …

Additionally Aromatic Hydrocarbons, remaining Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons, Lead, Copper, Chromium and Nickel are present in concentrations above the DEC Ecological Investigation Levels. These concentrations present a risk to the health of the surrounding environment …

As required under the Contaminated Sites Act, Mr and Mrs Marston reported these results. The penalty for non-compliance is $250 000—so they were obliged to report—and the Marstons’ home was classified as “possibly contaminated”. A memorial was placed over the title of their home and that still remains. Caltex’s mandatory auditor’s report stated that Caltex contractors were remiss in having no dust management plan and they had failed to undertake community consultation. In their opinion insufficient data is available to confirm whether there is a source‑affected site relationship between Caltex and the Marston site. In September 2010 DEC requested Caltex to do testing on the Marstons’ property as a source‑affected site relationship had not been ruled out. They noted that Caltex’s poor site management and lack of community consultation during the 2007 to 2008 remediation works had impacted on the Marstons’ ability to use their property and caused them to be concerned for their health. DEC has indicated that, before lifting the memorial from the property, further investigation is necessary.

This has been a very expensive process with reports, scientific testing, legal and medical fees totalling over $100 000 for the Marstons. Insurance has been refused and the value of the house has deteriorated. The Marstons have been unable to ensure its upkeep and it is now vulnerable to vandalism.

Dingle and Bird’s detailed analysis concludes that the neighbouring Caltex depot is the most likely source of contamination. DEC too has come to that view. Mr and Mrs Marston have been asked to give Caltex’s consultants access to their yard for testing. They have delayed this pending legal advice. They just want resolution, rather than belated testing which may well be used to sweep the issue under the carpet.

As a result of this, I would like to call on the Minister for Environment, and ask the Minister for Mental Health to take this message to the minister: that the department pursues the principles of the act to facilitate remediation of the Marstons’ land and home. A just resolution should ensure our regulatory standards are upheld and contamination is cleaned up for residents like the Marstons and also for the environmental values.

The Mortlock River is only 200 metres away from this contaminated property. Left unresolved, cases like this make a mockery of our contaminated sites legislation.

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