Toxic chemical levels found at BlueScope site

Precautionary testing will be done on streets close to the former BlueScope stainless steel site in Unanderra.
Precautionary testing will be done on streets close to the former BlueScope stainless steel site in Unanderra.

Elevated groundwater readings of a potentially toxic chemical have been found at a BlueScope Steel site in Unanderra.

The carcinogen trichloroethylene, known as TCE and commonly used as an industrial cleaning solvent, was found in elevated levels at the former stainless steel site off Marley Place early in March.

The site closed in 1997.

The federal government’s Department of the Environment website lists TCE as a ‘‘probable human carcinogen’’.

It states exposure to moderate amounts of TCE can cause headaches, loss of balance and tremors, while larger exposure can cause dizziness or sleepiness and heart, nerve and liver damage, and even death in the case of ‘‘very large exposure’’.

BlueScope’s general manager manufacturing, John Nowlan, said testing on the site indicated there were no immediate health risks and that it was safe for personnel currently working at the premises.

The discovery was made when the company began a new groundwater sampling program.

Elevated levels of TCE were found about two to three metres below surface level at a localised section of the north-western end of the site.

Mr Nowlan said precautionary testing had begun on nearby streets, including around houses, to determine whether the TCE had migrated beyond the site. Residents were informed of the find earlier this week.

“As a precautionary measure, BlueScope has contacted and has consent from the council and a small number of nearby residents to conduct some further testing in council-owned roadways or footpaths and in and around the houses of the residents concerned,’’ he said.

Remediation work at the BlueScope site has begun. 

Director of Hazardous Incidents at the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, Craig Lamberton, said they were fully aware of the elevated readings and would work with BlueScope to address the problem.


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