Residents rally against toxic soil dumping

March 11, 2020
The CFMEU is warning of toxic hotspots being unearthed by Transuban and dumped elsewhere. Image: CFMEU

Hundreds rallied in Werribee, Victoria, against a proposal to dump toxic soil nearby on March 4. This is not the first time Werribee has been threatened with a toxic dump.

In 1996, building products company CSR intended to dump toxic chemicals there until residents began a campaign, leading to a 15,000-strong public rally at Werribee Racecourse.

Two years later, CSR withdrew its proposal and sold the site.

The proposed site is close to houses and Werribee River. Down the river, Werribee South farms produce 85% of the state’s cauliflower and 55% of its broccoli, as well as 70% of the country’s lettuce.

Environmental engineer Morley Muse pointed out at the rally that toxic perfluoralkyl (PFA) chemicals, a collection of synthetic compounds that have been linked to cancers in firefighters, take about 80 years to break down.

Wyndham Council opposes the toxic dump. Speaking at the rally, mayor Josh Gilligan said the council was told to expect “8000 tonnes a day of the soil”. Some will come from the West Gate Tunnel’s most-polluted site.

The Age reported on March 6 that this soil “is hundreds of times worse than a threshold set by Victoria’s environmental watchdog”. 

Tests reveal that PFA soil contamination near Coode Island is severe, with contamination levels at between 112 and 2000 times higher than is acceptable. There are fears that contamination could leach into the water table.

Rail Tram and Bus Union representative Vikrant Sharma told the rally the community will not tolerate being used as a “toxic waste dump”. She said the Wyndham railyard, a future workplace, is right next door to the proposed dump.

“It is every worker’s right to a safe workplace”, Sharma said.

Meanwhile, on March 10, about 1500 people rallied in Bacchus Marsh against toxic soil from Transurban’s West Gate Road Tunnel being dumped in the area. 

Bacchus Marsh is another big producer of broccoli.

According to the Bacchus Marsh says NO to Toxic Waste Facebook, Maddingley Brown Coal (MBC) wants to “manage” soil from its West Gate Tunnel Project there.

The site is less than 2 kilometres from town and 500 metres from Bacchus Marsh Grammar School.

Parwan Creek flows through the site and onto the Werribee River. Any contamination of these waterways would pose a significant risk to Victoria’s food bowl.

MBC states only low levels of PFAs are expected to be found in the soil earmarked to be dumped. However, The Age exposed leaked test results that showed PFA levels at one point in the tunnel to be between 112 and 2000 times the acceptable amount in drinking water.

Campaigner Colleen Hartland told the Bacchus Marsh rally that Transurban cannot claim it did not know about the West Gate contamination because “the site has been an industrial site for 100 years”.

Kate Barlow from the Bacchus Marsh Community Coalition told the Star Weekly: “If the soil is contaminated enough to stop them digging and they have everyone in Hazmat suits, it can’t possibly be the low levels they are describing.

“[Victorian Labor Premier] Dan Andrews’ silence means he is complicit in the destruction of an entire community. We don’t want [the toxic site] to go to Wyndham either; we are working together to ensure the soil doesn’t destroy a community.”

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has also warned about the danger of asbestos for workers on the West Gate Tunnel. But, every time workers dig up asbestos, the joint venture operator John Holland-CPB describes the incident as an “unexpected find”.

In project documents obtained by the CFMEU, these “unexpected finds” keep happening time and again.

[Another protest against the toxic soil dump in Wyndham will take place on March 15 at 2pm, Stabling Yard, Hobbs Road, Wyndham Vale.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.