Residents demand clean air

Issue 

Residents demand clean air

By Nick Everett

SYDNEY — Fifty residents protested here on February 29 against the pollution of their suburbs by the unfiltered ventilation stacks used as part of the city's road tunnel program. The protest, in Farrer Place, was organised by RAPS, Residents Against Polluting Stacks.

Vehicle exhaust emissions cause at least 400 premature deaths a year in Sydney, nearly as many as from motor vehicle accidents. Demonstrators, many of whom are affected by the polluting stacks on the Eastern Distributor or will be by those on the proposed Lane Cove and cross-city tunnels, are demanding that filtration equipment be installed in the tunnels to prevent the concentration of toxic fumes in local communities.

A single smoke stack, linked to the M5 East tunnel, sits at the bottom of a valley, right next to bushland that has recently been declared a regional park. At 40 metres high, the stack will be below, or just at, the height of hundreds of homes in Earlwood, Turrella, and Arncliffe. It is situated only metres away from homes in Turrella and from an industrial area, much of which is now being redeveloped into housing.

A NSW Legislative Council parliamentary inquiry found it unacceptable for the communities to live with unfiltered stacks. The committee's main recommendations were that the Road Transport Authority call for international expressions of interest for the installation of in-tunnel ventilation systems and for an independent panel of experts, including a community representative, to evaluate those expressions of interest by March 31.

RAPS spokesperson Peter Siapos said that NSW environment minister Carl Scully had shown contempt for the inquiry.

"He has refused to meet with residents to discuss the inquiry's recommendations," Siapos alleged. "The RTA still refuses to have a public meeting to inform affected residents of the single stack proposal or comment on the inquiry. Meanwhile, the work on the [M5 East] stack site is continuing and even extending to work at night on a stack that has still not been approved.

"We have been fighting this ill-conceived proposal for over two years," Siapos said. "Our community's faith in the democratic process has been seriously eroded by the government's inaction. The technology for in-tunnel exhaust treatment exists and is proven and cost-effective. Use it, Minister! Stop stalling and playing Russian roulette with community health and safety."