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Byron Shire
September 21, 2021

Cancer cluster fears around Alstonville asphalt plant

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A community group that includes a respected cancer scientist have gone public with their fears that the proximity of an asphalt plant to homes at Alstonville could be putting residents in danger of cancer in coming years.

The group, Alstonville Asphalt Watch has released a video apparently showing smoke released from the plant blowing back over a residential area.

Cancer researcher and Alstonville resident Dr Effie Ablett said residents were being exposed chemicals called PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) that cause cancer.

She said the chemicals are in hot bitumen fumes being released from the asphalt plant at Gap Rd.

‘Young children are six times more susceptible to cancer-causing chemicals than adults. So children living in the area are most at risk,’ said Dr Ablett.

‘If the level of emissions of the last 18 months are allowed to continue, there will be a cancer cluster in Alstonville in 15 years time, as it takes 10 to 15 years from exposure to the chemical for cancer to develop,’ she added.

Residents have complained to Ballina Shire Council about fumes from the plant, especially during periods of temperature inversion, which usually happen at night and in the early mornings.

The plant, which has been operating for 40 years, recently received council permission to conduct night operations to keep up with demand for material during the construction of the Alstonville bypass and Pacific Highway duplication.

But Dr Ablett said that, ‘Having worked for over 30 years as a research scientist studying cancer, I was appalled to find out that some of the most potent carcinogens known are being released from the hot bitumen plant at Gap Rd, Alstonville.’

‘Residents of Palermo Place, Solara Court, Panorama Drive and Teven Road have complained of a strong bitumen smell coming from the Gap Rd plant when it was operating at night,’ she said.

‘On some occasions this builds up because of an inversion layer in the area. When this happens residents in this area of Alstonville are being exposed to levels of chemicals called PAH’s that could cause cancer,’ Dr Ablett added.

Operating within limits: mayor

Ballina council last week voted to refer resident complaints about odour to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for investigation.

Mayor David Wright told Echonetdaily the company was operating within its DA, adding that he had lived in the area for some years and had never noticed a smell.

The current operating limit for such operations is one kilometre from homes, yet the plant is approximately 40 metres from some residents.

But Mayor Wright said the houses have ‘been built up to the plant, which has been operating for 40 years.’

That’s not good enough for Ballina Cr Jeff Johnson, however, who says it’s time the plant was moved.

“The plant operation is leaking bitumen fumes and should not be allowed within 1km of residential properties, especially where young children live”, said Cr Jeff Johnson,

“With the potential risk of an accidental fire or explosion releasing large amounts of these chemicals, the 1km limit needs to be enforced. Houses in Granada Parade are less than 400 metres from the plant,’ he said.

The mayor said he had been in contact with one particular resident ‘20 or 30 times’ and the matter was now in the hands of the EPA, ‘which is the proper authority to investigate the issue.’

‘As far as I know there is no cancer cluster. I’m certain of Effie’s bona fides but as far as I’m aware the EPA has never ever tested [at the site],’ he said.

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  1. David Wright is referring to a DA that was approved 21 years ago. Things have moved on since then, David! We need a contemporary Environmental Impact Assessment.

  2. Wright clearly doesn’t have any kids at risk so it’s OK for him to be complacent about it. Get the EPA on the job, right away!

    • Cr Wright does not need to have kids in the environs of every hazard in the Shire to be concerned about them and he is respectful of Dr Ablett’s qualifications to raise the matter. He has referred the matter to the EPA which would surely be better qualified than Council to asses if there is a problem. I am unsure why you suggest Cr Wright is being complacent.


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