Rash blamed on filth in Wollongong Harbour

A Wollongong woman who went swimming in Wollongong Harbour last Thursday believes the dip in the sewage-tainted water has caused a nasty rash that has broken out on her hands and chest.

Foul-smelling sewage has been leaking from a sandstone wall near the jetty at the harbour's southern edge.

The problem was first reported to Sydney Water on January 11, but the harbour was only closed to swimmers on the afternoon of Friday, January 17.

The woman, who did not want to be named, spent several hours in the water in front of the children's play equipment in Belmore Basin on Thursday.

On Friday, her hands became itchy and pimple-like spots popped up on her palms. A deep layer of skin also peeled off the side of her ring finger.

Over the weekend the rash spread underneath her arms and on her chest, and she developed an upset stomach and a cough that produced a "nasty brown mucus".

She did not have any of these problems before swimming in the harbour. She plans to see her GP today.

She said the smell of sewage was not apparent in the area they were swimming, and it was only when she walked to her car to leave that she smelt "the stench of sewage, rotting cooking fat and decomposing food" near the site of the leak.

"What I don't understand, and this is the confusion, why did they wait so long [to stop people swimming] when it's such a serious issue?" she said.

The NSW Department of Trade and Investment, Crown Lands (which owns the land where the leak occurred), Sydney Water, NSW Health and Wollongong City Council issued a combined statement yesterday.

It said the harbour wasn't closed to swimmers earlier because, "It was initially believed the leak had been identified and at that time NSW Trade and Investment, Crown Lands organised pump out arrangements for sewage and wastewater."

The statement said the procedures for incidents that posed a health risk to swimmers "vary on a case-by-case basis depending on responsible agencies and the perceived risk".

It added that in this instance "the decision to close the harbour was made as a precaution between agencies based on a combined determination as to public health and safety".

Anyone who swam in the harbour last week and who has developed a stomach upset or skin irritation was advised to consult a doctor.

A spokeswoman from Wollongong Hospital said no patients had reported to the emergency department with symptoms associated with or caused by swimming in the contaminated water.

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