25.4 C
Byron Shire
December 4, 2021

Toluene found at Mullumbimby’s old hospital site

Latest News

Growing number of dogs

Thanks to Alison Drover for her informative article in last week’s Echo regarding the growing number of dogs in...

Other News

Which values are important?

Public opinion sure is divided about the Dunoon Dam (the DuD). Clearly it does not have sufficient social licence...

Lismore airport supported by community?

I am writing in response to your article, ‘Lismore airport supported by community’. First of all, the Lismore airport is...

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Crossing Over

I miss travelling. I miss the thrill of going somewhere new. The last few years feels like we’ve had no adventures. No interesting and foreign lands to explore.  It’s been all about staying at home. Thanks to Annastacia Palaszczuk, going to Queensland feels a bit like going overseas. I’ve had to cross the border for work a few times lately. 

Firefighters receive lifetime membership

During the 2019–20 Black Summer fires, we were reminded what a vital and important role the volunteers of the Rural Fire Service (RFS) play both in fighting fires, and bringing the community together. 

Election week sees Vanessa Ekins doing her blocky

Enjoying a few precious minutes break in an election week is a real luxury and Lismore mayoral candidate and current Mayor Vanessa Ekins managed to fit an Echo interview in between her TAFE Auslan course and the pre-poll station on Woodlark Street.

World record-breaking sailor takes out SCU’s Alumnus of the Year Award

If you’re seeking a bit of inspiration in your life, look no further than Southern Cross University’s Alumnus of the Year, Lisa Blair.

The NSW Government gifted the Byron Shire Council the opportunity to buy back the Mullumbimby Hospital site. Photo Aslan Shand

Yet another contamination concern has been uncovered at the site of the old Mullum Hospital, adding an extra $1.5 million to the already ballooning cost of remediating the land.

The agenda for this week’s Byron Shire Council meeting reveals that, following the removal of the asbestos-riddled buildings on the site, the potentially hazardous substance toluene was found.

A derivative of benzene, toluene is a colourless, water-soluble hydrocarbon.

Exposure to the substance has a number of health impacts, ranging from eye and nose irritation, to liver and kidney damage in cases of extended, high-level exposure.

The discovery is set to add significantly to both the cost and time required to prepare the site for community use following the State Government’s decision to gift it to the community in 2017.

With this latest financial hit, that ‘gift’ has now cost the community in excess of $5m, the vast majority of which has been spent on site remediation.

This is before a single cent has been spent on building anything on the site.

Further investigation and remediation

The discovery of toluene means significant additional investigation and remediation work will be required, according to the staff report on the issue.

This includes capping a significant area of the property, primarily where the former hospital buildings were located.

‘The Remediation Action Plan also requires the removal of trees within the capped area, which must be done in a prescribed way to ensure containment of asbestos contamination,’ Council’s manager of assets and major projects, Phil Warner, said in the staff report on the issue.

The cost and time required to complete this remediation is heavily dependent on the direction of the registered auditor contracted by Council to independently monitor the remediation work.

‘Council cannot control the level of work or timeframes required by the auditor to complete requirements,’ Mr Warner said.

Council has twice discovered that asbestos levels were higher than initially thought, leading to a seemingly ever-expanding process of investigation and remediation.


Council has already borrowed $3.33 million to pay for this work, with total interest payments for that loan set to be $124,000.

It is predicted that remediating the toluene contamination will cost an additional $1.15 million. However, staff have recommended borrowing $1.5 million for the work ‘in case there are any other unforeseen costs’.

‘The understanding is that outcomes on the former Mullumbimby Hospital site will generate sufficient return to Council to recover all of the costs Council has invested,’ Mr Warner said.

‘The proposed time frame for finalisation of the remediation works will then give nearly two years to Council to generate that return, to recover its costs, before the loans have to be fully repaid’. 

He added interest rates for loan borrowings are still very favourable.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. ‘Free lunches’ (or free anything else) come at a cost! Whoever on Council pushed for acquisition of the site had a deficit of foresight (not that that’s new with BSC).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Responsible dog owner

I read with interest Alison Drover’s article on dog management and the follow up letters last week, and I couldn’t agree more. I am indifferent...

Dogs need control

I agree with Alison Drover’s recent article and her final line ‘wildlife needs more love, and our dog owners need a tighter lead’. But the...

COVID update December 3: One new case and advice for international travellers

One new case of COVID-19 was reported for Northern NSW Local Health District (NNSWLHD) in the 24 hours to 8pm 2 December. Northern NSW Local...

Last mayoral candidates Q and A: are you a landlord?

Here at The Echo we have seen and heard the word ‘housing’ come up time and again throughout the local government election campaign period, whether it’s from candidates or other voters.