Overlooked: Helensburgh residents raised land contamination fears seven months ago

Residents warned of risk: Records obtained by the Mercury show residents emailed council to highlight this site's contamination history in July last year.
Residents warned of risk: Records obtained by the Mercury show residents emailed council to highlight this site's contamination history in July last year.

Helensburgh residents tried to warn Wollongong City Council about the risks of digging up soil at a building site more than six months ago, records obtained by the Mercury show.

However, their fears about past health issues caused by “toxic chemicals” resurfacing due to a new development were overlooked during the council’s assessment of a plan for a duplex to be built at 98A Parkes Street.

As revealed by the Mercury last month, the site is now under investigation by multiple government agencies because residents complained of a “putrid odour” which began emanating from the site when construction started.

The council is now investigating its own processes – as well as conducting soil sampling of various chemical compounds –  to “review the history of the site”.

READ MORE: Helensburgh health fears after six residents reportedly diagnosed with cancer

However, council records obtained by the Mercury under freedom of information laws show residents sent emails detailing the history of the land on July 2 and July 4 last year, more than five months before development on the site was approved.

In one submission objecting to the new development, a resident detailed how a previous owner – who has died – had “used toxic chemicals inappropriately to control termites”.

“Perhaps council can provide us with the documentation which shows the then owner complied with that order and the site is clean,” the resident – whose personal information has been redacted from the council files – asked on July 2.

“Also, that further building/digging work on this site will not cause the chemicals to be stirred up and the same issues of odour, irritation to eyes, nose and skin will not occur again.”

In another email, sent on July 4, a resident outlined how a man owned the now separated properties of 98 and 98A Parkes Streets for “well over 30 years” and occupied the sub-divided site as one.

He also kept a horse corral and horse yards on the site, the submission said.

Despite these emails, the council’s assessing officer said “a desktop audit of previous land uses does not indicate any historic use that would contribute to a contamination of the site” when approving the duplex.

Perhaps council can provide us with the documentation which shows ... further building/digging work on this site will not cause the chemicals to be stirred up and the same issues of odour, irritation to eyes, nose and skin will not occur again.

Helensburgh resident submission, July 2, 2016.

Commenting on issues raised regarding “chemicals/toxicity on site” the assessing officer said only that “the site is considered suitable for the intended use”.

Asked on Wednesday whether the council had considered the issues raised in the resident’s submissions, and what a “desktop audit” would have included, the council’s media department said it would not be “providing further comment”.

Instead, the council provided a statement to say it was “conducting a thorough review of the history of the site”.

Meantime, a neighbour of the Parkes Street property, Lisa Brookes, fronted a public council meeting on Monday to detail her concerns.

Ms Brookes said it “would seem inappropriate for the counci to investigate itself” and asked that its review into internal processes be outsourced.

She asked that councillor Greg Petty, who has been meeting with residents over their concerns for several weeks, be included on the investigation team.

Despite repeated questions from the Mercury about whether the council would consider an external investigation, the council once again declined to comment and provided the same media statement as above to say it was “continuing its investigation into a residential development at 98A Parkes Street”.