Sixty people held a colourful protest on the steps of the Victorian state parliament on July 18, as part of a long-running campaign to have the Tullamarine toxic waste dump closed and the site cleaned up. The dump, which is operated by the Cleanaway corporation, is located adjacent to Tullamarine airport. It is within 1.5 kilometres of the suburb of Westmeadows and is close to other residential areas.
The dump, formerly a quarry, has been steadily accumulating toxic waste since its creation over 30 years ago. In 1987 the Cain Liberal government made assurances that the dump would be shut by 1990, and in 2001 Labor Premier Steve Bracks promised that all toxic dumps in Victoria would be closed in three to five years.
The protest was organised by the Terminate Tulla Toxic Dump Action Group (TTTDAG), which consists of local residents from the Hume area, in particular Westmeadows, Gladstone park, Attwood and Tullamarine.
Despite community concern about the dump's health effects, Labor MP Justin Madden, Victoria's planning minister, has used state powers to override the dump's planning permit and approve its operation for another four years. An appeal made by residents through the Victorian Community Appeals Tribunal against extension of the dump's lease was "called in"(silenced) by the state government. This has denied residents any say in the continued operation of the dump. TTTDAG spokesperson Kaylene Wilson explained: "We want the right to cross-examine the pro-toxic dump experts that the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and Cleanaway trot out. Why are we being denied procedural fairness?"
Protesters carried 68 crosses representing the cases of cancer reported to the TTTDAG when they conducted a survey of 200 families living within 1.5km of the dump. This suggests a cancer rate in the area five times the national average.
John Cunneen, a Gladstone Park resident, told Green Left Weekly: "I have personal knowledge of families who have lost family members to cancer. Every third house or so in the area near the dump has lost someone." According to Cunneen, "there is an admitted high rate of miscarriages in the area according to the [Department of Human Services]. I was present when the EPA chairman admitted there are toxic chemicals in the dump."
The dump is known to contain a toxic cocktail of chemical and oil wastes, including benzenes, PCBs, phosphorous, medical wastes and hundreds of thousands of litres of ammonium nitrate. Cleanaway estimates the site contains 30 million litres of "toxic oily leachate". It is believed there may be millions more litres than the figure Cleanaway provides.
Protest participants said that despite some EPA bureaucrats showing "genuine concern" about the dump, the organisation has licensed the use of "experimental technology" at the site, including newer types of plastic lining and membranes that are supposed to make continued dumping "safe".
One of the protesters, who did not wish to be named, said that trucks frequently make deliveries of waste to the dump "at 3am in the morning" to avoid protesters. In one instance, a truck entered the site under police escort.
The clandestine nature of the dump's operation raises the question of whether undeclared highly toxic wastes are being illegally dumped at the site. Claims by the dump's operators that any spills into nearby Moonee Ponds Creek will simply be "pumped back into the dump" have done little to reassure residents that the creek is not being polluted with toxic chemicals.
Pollution of the creek is a concern since it flows through various other suburbs before finally reaching Melbourne city. This means that any gradual contamination of the creek will affect not only local residents, but a string of communities leading to the city and ultimately the mouth of the Yarra River. The site is known to flood periodically, with overflows ending up in Moonee Ponds Creek.
"It is simple logic", said Cunneen, "that any toxic leaks from the dump will continue downstream to Melbourne — straight to Docklands".
Anita Zukowski, a Westmeadows resident, said: "My concern is for the future implications of Tullamarine toxic waste dump extending their lease. I'm 28 years' old and at an age where I am considering starting a family. But I am considering relocating, given the high rate of miscarriages, birth abnormalities and defects, the fact that people have had pets giving birth to offspring with abnormalities ... and the higher rate of cancer and leukaemia in the area."
Zukowski believes the dump should be closed down to ensure that the surrounding areas are "a safer place for children to be brought up". "I think I speak for a lot of people who live in the area. The health benefits of taking a walk or a bike ride is negated if you are walking alongside a polluted creek."
TTTDAG's Kaylene Wilson said that "It should be put back on the manufacturers to find alternative methods of disposing of this waste".
For more information, visit http://www.tullatoxicdump.net.