As is sometimes the case, events can unfold, and a lesson can be learnt from pure chance…
Today, when my folks arrived at our place (nothing unusual so far), Mum had with her some information she had printed from Wikipedia (again, nothing unusual so far). It was Wikipedia’s entry for Kingston, QLD. Whilst we now live on the Central Coast of NSW, I grew up in Beenleigh QLD, only a few suburbs from Kingston.
Not only did I not know that there were gold mines in the area, today I learnt about the waste pit, the dumping, the toxic waster, the cover-up, the buy back of land, and the ‘capping & venting’ of the land.
Admittedly, the gold mine ceased operations in 1954 – a while before my time (so I hear you say, why am I writing about it?), however, the final action to take place was not completed until 1991 – many years after the 1954 closure.
I’ll include some of the story below, full Wikipedia page here.
In a tale startlingly similar to the Love Canal Disaster, the Kingston toxic waste story began in 1931 when cyanide and other toxins such as acid waste used in the Mount Taylor gold refining process were disposed of around the mine site.
When the mine closed in 1954, the Albert Shire Council started to allow used recycled oil processing wastes to be dumped into a sludge pit on the site; this practice continued until 1967. From 1968 to 1973 the main open-cut pit was used as a domestic and industrial waste tip.
In 1968 the council required the sludge pit to be filled as a condition of the land being divided for a residential subdivision. Workers simply moved the displaced sludge and re-dumped it into the open-cut pit.
The problems start
In 1982, after the Logan Council took over the area, it discovered high levels of acid in the soil.
In September 1986 residents, in the Diamond street area of Kingston, started to notice black sludge beginning to ooze from the ground and seep into their gardens and began to complain of health problems to the Logan Council. By April 1987 the council was warning people to avoid the sludge. Surrounding soils and ground-water were also found to be contaminated.
In May 1987, frustrated with the council inaction, the residents of Kingston formed an organisation called RATS (Residents Against Toxic Substances). Because of increased leukaemia and other diseases in Kingston, they condemned the council and demanded action. Kingston residents could not afford a costly civil action so the went to the media and began a self-funded civic action.
The fight and the result
It took 4 years of fighting the council and local governments for the residents of Kingston to be vindicated when the Minister for Emergency Services, Terry Mackenroth, ordered a review of all scientific and medical evidence, offered full health tests for residents and announced the Wayne Goss government would rehabilitate the site and pay for families to be moved away.
Eventually the state government resumed 46 properties and rehabilitated the area completing 1991, which is known as Kingston Park. The people of Kingston were moved on, Mount Taylor was sealed and landscaped, but no compensation came for residents reported illnesses and deaths (Some place the figure at six deaths due to leukemia). The final medical report found no evidence of “a major toxic hazard” in Kingston but recognised the “stress on a number of residents because of the uncertainty”. Kingston residents finally could not prove that dumped toxic chemicals caused leukaemia or any other disease.
The total cost of this operation to date, including relocating infrastructure, the engineering required to seal the site and on-going monitoring, is approximately $8 million.
Although the Mount Taylor site was capped, sealed and vented in 1991, no toxic waste was removed. Some former residents believe there is still a major toxic hazard that lies buried and waiting under the ground at Kingston.
Now this is where I begin to wonder… Does everyone know this? Was it just me that had my head in the ground about this? Does everyone who grew up in the area know about this?
I then begin to wonder should we be concerned that the entire ‘finalisation’ project (land buy-back, cap & vent etc) in total cost only $8Million? From the reports I’ve found, people were living a top of a toxic waste pit. And maybe to some extent, still are??
I’m amazed that such a story can come to my attention by pure chance of something Mum brought along with her to dinner at our place. Things you learn, hey.