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October 19, 2021

Gold Coast airport-expansion site contaminated

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The Gold Coast airport expansion to accommodate the antiquated ILS will wipe out hectares of important wetland in NSW. It has now been revealed the proposed ILS site contains toxic chemicals which could contaminate groundwater. .
The Gold Coast airport expansion to accommodate the antiquated ILS will wipe out hectares of important wetland in NSW. It has now been revealed the proposed ILS site contains toxic chemicals which could contaminate groundwater.
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Luis Feliu

Opponents of Gold Coast Airport’s controversial runway expansion plan have called for an immediate halt to the plan after it was revealed toxic chemicals have contaminated the land on the NSW side of the border where a new instrument landing system (ILS) is set to be built.

The site has been used by Air Services Australia for fire training exercises using firefighting foam, which the ILS plan says contains  Perflurooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and Perflurooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Both chemicals were recently revealed to have contaminated land at Williamtown RAAF Base and Newcastle Airport, including an extensive area of groundwater systems and waterways, and found in fish downstream of them.

Campaigners against the Gold Coast airport runway extension say commercial fishing and oyster harvesting has been stopped in areas around the two Hunter Valley airports and warnings issued over the use of water and some food products.

Greens candidate for Richmond, Dawn Walker, says she was shocked to learn of the contamination on the proposed ILS  site, as revealed in the final ILS Major Development Plan (MDP).

Ms Walker said the two chemicals found ‘do not break down in the environment and persist for a long time’.

‘These contaminants were not mentioned in the preliminary draft plan, and were only revealed in the final ILS Major Development Plan (MDP),’ she said.

‘The water table chart contained in previous studies shows ground water flows to Billinga, where many residents use spear pumps.

‘Worryingly, the ILS development has been excluded from the requirement to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment.

‘Although the project was referred to the Commonwealth government under the EPBC Act, it was not deemed a “controlled action”. This means no government environmental impact assessment has been undertaken.

‘These revelations of contamination raises serious concerns about the environmental impact of the ILS development, particularly in how it could affect the health of nearby residents and the Cobaki and Terranora broadwaters.

‘The ILS development should be halted until a full Environmental Impact Assessment and EPA investigation is undertaken.

‘The health of our community and the environment are too precious to risk,’ Ms Walker said.

Tugun Cobaki Alliance spokesperson Lindy Smith told Echonetdaily the final development plan for the ILS ‘briefly’ stated the toxic chemicals were present outside of the area west of the runway ‘but provided no detail’.

Under investigation

‘These very same chemicals have contaminated an extensive area of groundwater systems, waterways and has been found in fish downstream of the Williamtown RAAF and Newcastle airports which is under investigation, with an inquiry underway,’ Ms Smith said.

‘Commercial fishing and oyster harvesting has been stopped and warnings issued not to use groundwater, water from waterways to prepare food and not eat some food products,’ she said.

‘The zone of contamination had to be increased and is being considered to further increase the zone as investigation continues.

‘The groundwater flow path in the north area of the GCA fire training area flows directly east to Bilinga. At the south area the groundwater flow path is south west to the Cobaki Broadwater (CB).

‘There is a real probability the contamination is leaching to the CB and has leached into Coolangatta Creek and also the groundwater system of the Bilinga residential area.

‘The fact now exists of the risks of the now approved ILS and Project Lift MDPs and associated earthworks and particularly with the realignment of Coolangatta Creek to 50 metres of the NSW Crown Reserve and Cobaki Broadwater catchment.

‘I have reviewed the relevant section in the Project Lift preliminary draft MDP and while it mentions this chemical contamination is known to present in soil and water at the airport, it is dismissed and groundwater testing did not include these chemicals.

‘This matter is yet another disturbing omission through a very flawed process.

‘The extent of contamination can only be properly assessed by an independent investigation as has occurred at the Williamtown RAAF/Newcastle airports (not privately owned, hence the reporting of the matter).

‘The environmental/health risks from these chemicals has been known since 2005 so exposes real negligence.

‘This critical information identifying the actual chemical contaminant was withheld from the ILS MDP formal public exhibition process and was not disclosed until after the approval,’ Ms Smith said.

Carninogenic

Meanwhile, north coast Greens MP Jan Barham and environment spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi have called on the NSW government to investigate ‘and provide information about the soil contamination involving potentially carcinogenic chemicals’ at the airport.

MLC Dr Faruqi said the contamination involves ‘the same perfluorocarbon chemicals that affected surface and ground water at the Williamtown RAAF base in the Hunter, affecting fisheries and prompting health warnings and multiple investigations’.

‘I wrote to the environment minister back in October last year seeking information as to whether what happened at Williamtown could happen anywhere else in the state and did not receive a reply,’Dr Faruqi said.

‘People shouldn’t have to find out about major contaminations by accident.

‘I’ve lodged questions on notice in Parliament asking the environment minister whether the NSW government had been informed about this contamination and seeking an investigation of the extent of the contamination and the risks it might pose to the surrounding region.

‘The Cobaki Broadwater and its biodiversity deserve protection under the Ramsar Convention so it’s crucial for the minister to ensure there is no risk to the wetland and the Tweed region,’ she said.

MLC Ms Barham said the presence of ‘these toxic and persistent chemicals at Gold Coast Airport is a cause for concern in the Tweed region, and the NSW government needs to provide information to the community’.

‘I’m troubled that this information has only come to light after the airport’s proposed Instrument Landing System (ILS) was approved and the final Major Development Plan was released,’ she said.

‘The draft plan that was released for public comments last year didn’t mention these chemicals, despite the fact that their use in firefighting was discontinued around 2010.

‘In question time today I’ll call on the Minister for Primary Industries, Lands and Water to act to halt the installation of the ILS on NSW Crown Land until a full Environmental Impact Assessment and investigation of the potential impacts have been undertaken.

‘The NSW government has to respond urgently to address the concerns of the Tweed community,’ Ms Barham said.

 


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