Tuesday, November 08, 2011

To[ic legac\ lingers

MORE than 10 years after a chemical fire in Bellevue, the area is still contaminated, as the United Firefighters Union of WA and FESA try to track down all involved at the site. A liquid waste treatment and recycling facility on Bulbey Street was destroyed when it went up in flames on February 15, 2001. The site contained a number of chemicals including petroleum hydrocarbons and chlorinated solvents. It is now controlled by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). DEC tried to protect the Helena River by installing a permeable reactive barrier (PRB) last year to stop a plume of chemicals washing from the site into the river. “Two 76m long and 11m deep parallel trenches were dug and backfilled with treatment materials between March and May 2010, to intercept and treat contaminated groundwater,” a spokesperson said. “The PRBs have been designed to operate for at least 15 years. Their performance is assessed on a quarterly basis by sampling an extensive groundwater monitoring network.” Results from 2010 indicate the plume has slowed down, and contaminates are not detected in the river. While the river appears to be spared, the United Firefighters Union of WA has sent a survey to all members, looking to identify those involved in the 2001 fire. Secretary Graeme Geer said the survey asked questions including what role firefighters had played and how long they remained at the scene. “A number have got health problems and to be able to link them to that fire would be useful,” he said. “I have got a gut feeling that there are serious concerns there.” A FESA spokeswoman said career firefighters and FESA personnel involved with the fire had also been invited to take part in a health monitoring program, which looked at aspects including lung function. She said the organisation would not be able to collate any statistics until more members had responded. While more than 1000 members have been invited to take part, less than 100 have registered, with the organisation seeking another 600. An expression of interest process is still being finalised to identify potential contractors for the clean-up of the contaminated site. The spokeswoman said community consultation would be carried out by the contractor. What everyone else is thinking Adrian Ashton 02/11/2011 Exposure to toxic chemicals is causing more and more of us to bear the consequences: illnesses once regarded as uncommon but now statistically more significant. The onset can be sudden and totally unexpected as I know well. On a medical specialist asking if one knows the cause, the careless attitude of others resulting in a serious previous exposure(s) to oneself is immediately suspect and rankles much more than would be the case, say, with no such connections. The Bellevue waste chemical dump was insufficiently monitored, if at all, to ensure public safety. Standing out as a case where our supposed public health guardians can fall down on their duty was that of the official sent to measure lead levels at an Esperance dockside warehouse admitting later how fear had prevented him from venturing inside to take readings. Could it have been fear, also, which kept public health officials away from the Bellevue dump? None can doubt the bravery of firefighters who risk their lives, however.

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