The NSW environmental watchdog has launched an investigation into a drain that empties into Port Kembla Harbour, after a local environmental campaigner found "alarming" levels of poisonous heavy metal contamination in the water.
Port Kembla resident Jess Whittaker, a Greens party member who has been involved with highlighting a number of recent incidences of water pollution happening in Wollongong creeks, said she took a water sample from a drain about six weeks ago near Foreshore Road after noticing "funny looking" water flowing into it.
She sent these to be analysed by University of Western Sydney water scientist Dr Ian Wright, who told her he was stunned by the levels of pollution. Contaminants found included arsenic, lead, copper, zinc and uranium.
I think people in Port Kembla will be really angry about this. Because the perception is that things are being cleaned up and that companies are being held to a higher standard these days.
The drain runs downstream from the old Port Kembla Copper (PKC) site and IXOM acid reprocessing plant into the outer harbour, however Ms Whittaker said the pollution could be coming from runoff, or any number of sites which surround the waterway.
She also said it was possible the industrial surrounds of Port Kembla could allow for illegal dumping of waste water by an unknown party.
Both PKC and IXOM hold licences to dump dirty water into the drain, however Ms Whittaker said the water samples far exceeded any conditions set out in these licences.
"The contamination levels in my sample were six times over the Port Kembla Copper licence for arsenic alone, with a cocktail of other toxic ingredients also reading at high levels, including lead, copper, aluminium, zinc, selenium, iron, strontium and uranium," she said.
She said she was concerned for what this level of pollution could mean for the wildlife and people who use the area.
"I think people in Port Kembla will be really angry about this. Because the perception is that things are being cleaned up and that companies are being held to a higher standard these days," she said.
"Plus, the Five Islands are out there, Port Kembla is amazing for wildlife, and loads of people fish there - so I think people really do need to know about this, and we should take it seriously."
The Environment Protection Authority said it sent a specialist sampling team to the site on November 13 to collect water samples in and around the drain.
"The land legacy issues of past industrial uses at Port Kembla are well documented," a spokesperson said.
"The EPA's test results will inform our next steps. The EPA will continue to engage with the local community and interested researchers such as Dr Ian Wright on next steps."
It noted public access to Port Kembla Harbour was restricted, or prohibited in places, and said it was "not generally used for recreation".
"Darcy Road drain is fenced from Foreshore Rd to the point where it discharges into the Port Kembla Outer Harbour. Fishing is also restricted in Port Kembla."
The watchdog said it had informed NSW Ports, NSW Ports Authority and Wollongong Council about the current investigations and would "not hesitate to take regulatory action if licensed sites do not meet the conditions set in their environment protection licence".
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