A section of land slated for Bungendore High School’s carpark has been declared “significantly contaminated land”, throwing another curveball for the controversial project.
The NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declaration stated the agency had reason to believe the land, which also includes the railway line, was contaminated with enough substances that could cause harm to human health.
“Elevated concentrations of lead and arsenic were found after completing shallow soil sampling on the Land and associated with activities related to the transport of material from the Lake George Mine,” it stated.
“Potential harm may be caused to human health and the environment onsite due to the presence of contaminants.”
It found the levels of lead and arsenic exceeded the national guidelines values for protection of human health, while the levels of copper and zinc were also found to exceed the national guidelines for protection of the environment.
Cadmium, chromium, nickel and mercury have also been detected, but at lower concentrations.
The declaration identified the risk of harm wasn’t just confined to the identified area.
“The approved use of the adjoining land for residential and school purposes may increase the risk of harm caused by contaminants of the Land,” it stated.
The declaration stated there was the potential for contaminants to migrate from the site via airborne dust or sediment in surface runoff.
The EPA’s investigation focused on the railway corridor, while the NSW Department of Education undertook the site-specific investigation.
This included inside and outside of Bungendore Public School, the site for the high school’s new agricultural plot and the site of Bungendore High School.
A spokesperson said the lead contamination found in the railway corridor was not impacting the future school’s site.
“A detailed contamination investigation of the Bungendore new high school site was conducted by an independent consultant in July 2022 and found it suitable for a school,” they said.
“The safety of students and staff are our highest priorities. We will continue to test and monitor the site, with any contaminated land fully remediated.”
However, protest group Save Bungendore Park issued a statement saying it was clear this warning meant the site should be abandoned.
“The chosen site is dogged with issues of crown land legalities, heritage loss, destruction of community facilities and traffic safety issues. In addition, the EPA has now declared the adjacent rail corridor as significantly contaminated land,” secretary Judith Turley said.
“This is potentially the most immediate concern for families and the community at large.
“It must now be inevitable that the current plan will be abandoned – because the alternative is that the new Labor Government finds itself in Court, trying to defend Barilaro’s discredited plan, blatantly ignoring Crown Land law and EPA warnings about permanent and serious harm to children.”
The group has filed proceedings in the NSW Land and Environment Court, which are due to start on Friday (5 May).
A Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council spokesperson said council’s properties in close proximity to the rail corridor had been tested, with most found to be within safe levels.
“A small section of the road verge and footpath area south-west of Mick Sherd Oval (between the war memorial and car park) were found to have elevated levels of lead,” they said.
“The likely cause of contamination of this area is imported contaminated fill rather than direct impact from the rail corridor.”
They said “vegetative cover” provided a physical barrier to the contaminated soil, and it would be regularly maintained by council staff to ensure it remained in good condition.
Monaro MP Steve Whan recently met with the Education Department and Minister, seeking assurances a full remediation of the impacted land would occur in a timely fashion.
“Obviously that’s a prerequisite of having anything there,” he said.
“My understanding is that the contaminated area is an area of the carpark near the railway station.
“I also want assurances the remediation will extend across to the Men’s Shed as well.”
Lead has been a known contamination risk in the area for a while, with the substance transported from the Captain’s Flat mine in uncovered trucks until it was closed.
He said there were no indications the nearby Bungendore Primary School was at risk.
Mr Whan was also pushing the Education Department to provide further clarification about the site selection process, the school’s delivery timeline, and the difference in timeframe should another site be selected at this point in time.
The state Labor Party did secure the release of documents surrounding the site selection process when it was in Opposition late last year, which Mr Whan said equated to about 16 boxes. He wanted to see this information compiled into an accessible document for the community.
The new high school has already cost about $13 million, with construction still promised to be completed towards the end of 2024.
For now, Mr Whan said the community should not be too concerned.
“Obviously lead is a concern for anybody … I think the community should be concerned if action wasn’t being taken, but there is action being taken,” he said.
“It’s not the first place we’ve had lead [in this community] but we, the state government, obviously need to be acting – even if the school wasn’t there – to make sure there’s no lead in the environment in the middle of Bungendore.”
Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on About Regional.