Kurri and Weston residents have made a ‘private eye’ to record industrial pollution in the area.
Three people spent six weeks and used donated materials to build the mobile fluoride monitor.
It will be used to independently check pollution from Kurri’s aluminium smelter and a newly opened aluminium dross factory. The residents have also bought a hand-held noise monitor from America to record sounds coming from the smelter and factory.
They will begin recording background noise today as a reference level for future noise complaints.
The fluoride monitor was built to Australian standards and was a copy of equipment used by Capral Aluminium to conduct official pollution monitoring of its smelter.
Residents will set the machines up in their yards and send the findings to the Environment Protection Authority and Cessnock City Council.
They will also make requests for action if the results indicate pollution emission breaches.
A spokesman for the residents, Mr Col Maybury, said a recent Land and Environment Court defeat had not deterred residents from an ongoing fight against industrial pollution.
The court rejected last month an attempt by Mr Maybury to close the dross plant until more environmental checks were carried out.
The court ordered that he pay $16,500 court costs.
Kurri and Weston residents decided to give donations and hold concerts and raffles to help pay the bill.
Mr Maybury said yesterday that the residents were as determined as ever to continue fighting pollution.
They had little faith in Australia’s pollution monitoring system – where developers monitor themselves – or the ability of any authority to police breaches properly.
The Kurri aluminium smelter had a licence to emit up to 250 tonnes of fluoride a year and the new dross factory could emit 25 tonnes of fluoride into the air every 12 months.
Mr Maybury said fluoride pollution affected people with respiratory problems and children with asthma and could stunt the growth and possibly kill some plants.
Noise from Kurri’s industrial area was not supposed to exceed 65 decibels.
‘The (official) system we have is not as good as it should be, so we decided to do what we could to keep things honest,’ Mr Maybury said.
‘We could keep putting the polluting industries in but we hope they’ll cooperate so we can improve the situation.’
December 19, 1998
By Paul Maguire
FLUORIDE pollution from Capral Aluminium’s Kurri Kurri smelter cost the company $100,000 yesterday.
The fine was handed down by the NSW Land and Environment Court for breaching the ‘never-to-be-exceeded’ pollution limit during January, March and September 1997. Capral pleaded guilty.
Mr Justice Cowdroy said in his judgment that the ‘lack of any coherent environmental management system prior to the exceedances is alarming’.
Despite pleading guilty, the company demonstrated little contrition, he said.
‘Instead, its stance has been one of affront towards any measures suggested by highly qualified experts of the (Environment Protection Authority) to improve its environmental performance,’ Mr Justice Cowdroy said.
Capral spokesman Mr Ian Edwards said after the ruling that the court found ‘no proven harm, or the likelihood of such, to the environment’.
He said he was pleased the court recognised the company’s recent environmental performance had improved markedly.
Kurri/Weston Concerned Citizens Action Group spokesman Mr Col Maybury called on Capral to apologise to the Lower Hunter community. He asked whether the EPA would take legal action over six other alleged smelter pollution breaches in 1997 and 1998.
EPA spokesman Mr John Dengate said the authority had selected three breaches to give Capral a wake-up call.
January 30, 1999
Worried Sick With Fluoride
By Paul Maguire
TERRY Kelly no longer eats fluoride-contaminated vegetables from his Kurri backyard garden.
He fears they could make him sick.
Complaints by Mr Kelly and nearby residents have prompted a health study to determine a fluoride level in vegetables safe for human consumption. The Hunter Public Health Unit investigation is understood to be a world first.
Unit environmental health officer Nicole Badger said yesterday that the study would try to establish a daily tolerable fluoride intake from food that would not harm people’s health.
She knew of no other study that examined the link between fluoride concentrations in food and human health.
Ms Badger said Kurri residents had complained for years about fluoride pollution fallout.
They had blamed pollution from the town’s aluminium smelter and aluminium dross factory, she said.
Ms Badger said the health department had nothing to connect industry with fluoride pollution in food contributing to human health problems.
Mr Kelly said health officials told him that if he ate his backyard vegetables he did so at his own risk.
Public health officers took vegetable samples in October from five Kurri backyard gardens, including Mr Kelly’s.
Control’ samples were taken at the same time from two properties on the eastern side of Lake Macquarie.
Tests at the NSW Government Laboratories found results ranging up to 20 milligrams of fluoride per kilogram of vegetable matter.
Some control’ vegetables had higher fluoride levels than the Kurri vegetables.
Ms Badger described the findings as inconclusive’.
She said fluoride concentrations in vegetables tested to date were lower than fluoride concentrations in some toothpastes.
A second round of tests will begin next week.
May 17, 1999
Valley Food Under Test
By Paul Maguire
FLUORIDE-contaminated vegetables from the Hunter Valley will be assessed as part a national effort to determine a safe fluoride intake for humans.
Complaints by Kurri Kurri residents forced Hunter Area Health officers last October to have backyard garden vegetables tested for fluoride pollution.
They found a variety of fluoride levels in the plants.
Health officials said the outcome was inconclusive’ and began a second round of tests in January.
Hunter Health spokesman John James declined to comment on the findings last week.
Mr James said they had been sent to Sydney for assessment by the NSW Health Department’s environmental health food and nutrition branch.
He said the results meant nothing by themselves.
They would be included in a risk assessment in line with National Health and Medical Research Council human fluoride exposure guidelines.
Mr James said the assessment would involve a variety of fluoride intake sources such as other foods, air and water.
He did not know how long the assessment would take.
It would be more complicated than initially estimated and would have advice from several government agencies.
Hunter Health officer Nicole Badger told The Newcastle Herald in January that Kurri residents had complained for years about fluoride pollution.
They blamed the town’s aluminium smelter and aluminium dross factory.
The health department had nothing to connect industry with fluoride pollution in food contributing to human health problems, Ms Badger said.Kurri resident Terry Kelly said he hoped answers could be found.
‘There’s no doubt we have a fallout problem around here and it would be nice to prove where it’s coming from and what it means to human health,’ Mr Kelly said.