A Toxic Lesson

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.

 

The beginning
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.

 

The end?
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.

 


4 thoughts on “A Toxic Lesson

  1. Hi Ash,

    Same here. I grew up in Acacia Ridge, just a couple of suburbs north-west of Kingston and in 1986 I was 18 and I was completely unaware of the Kingston toxic waste problem and coverup until about 10 years ago. (In my defense, this was the same time my dear old dad’s battle with asbestos related cancer ended)

    I met a lady who had lived in Diamond st and herself and several of her family were still battling chronic illnesses that Doctors told her were related to heavy metal poisoning. This would have been approximately 14 years after the ‘black sludge’ began appearing in their yard.

    Regards, Amanda Pont

  2. I grew up in Kingston until I was 7 years old when I moved to Victoria in 1989. I remember the toxic waste coming out of the ground and not being able to make things like ‘Mud Pies” just in case it was contaminated. I am very interested to know what the long term health affect are as only cancer is mentioned in articles. I also see that one particular article states that health tests were done on residents and that they do not believe that the health risks and the toxic waste are linked… One thing is for certain, myself nor any of my family members had ever had or been approached to have any of these alleged health tests… I think that was all made up to be part of their cover ups for sure…. Pity social networking wasn’t around at that time, alot more may have been done and earlier with the extra pressure and knowledge from people.

  3. Hi,

    I’m learning about this in Environmental Law- it’s one of our case studies. I would imagine that a civil remedy would be available to anyone directly affected. Evidence to prove causation (negligence) of State Gov for approving residential zoning of land (NB: I am a student- so this is purely layman’s advice.) could include blood tests taken at the time, current medical reports and scientific expert evidence linking heavy metal poisoning and exposure to carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals with the specific medical conditions that the prior residents are experiencing.

    Find a past or current resident who is – unwell and effected with the above evidence and go and see either Queensland Public Interest Litigation Clearing House or a large law firm that does Pro-bono work on high profile public cases (sugg Maurice Blackburn, Slater and Gordon etc…). A legal action, combined with lobbying and environmental interest (ensuring publicity) may help to drive the change you are looking for.

    You may be able to start with the Environmental Defender’s Office Qld for free advice on their advice line tuesdays and thursday nights. If it is purely a civil action, then they won’t be able to help. But a contaminated site is required to be rehabilitated if it poses a risk of serious environmental harm under the Environmental Protection Act Qld ss 390- 400. All contaminated land must be included on the contaminated Land register. This is on the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection website- If it appears on the Contaminated Land Register (you can search the address) then the owner will be responsible site remediation.

    Good luck.

    Alison

  4. I grew up in Kingston around the time, although we moved to the country early 1988. We lived in Maple street so not near Diamond St, but we used to go there every now and then because mum and dad had friends that lived there. Even in 1986/87 it was being publicised, in the local Albert and Logan free paper, it was on the nightly news all the time, especially in 1990 when they were doing the buybacks, sorry, but if you lived in Kingston then, heck, even if you lived in the state of Qld then, I don’t get how you can not have heard about it, since it was often on the tv news and reached saturation point on the news during the midst of the buyback. How can anyone not have known (I was 12 then, but even *I* remember seeing it on the nightly news 6pm and 7pm), unless they never switched on the news or picked up a newspaper? I mean, it was EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t escape it.

    I’m more concerned though that the Courier-Mail mentioned 2 years ago that onsite monitoring has STOPPED for several years – so no one knows what is going on ‘down there. There could be a breach in the seal – no one knows because it is not monitored anymore. Now that is truly terrifying. What happens if someone is mucking around there and falls in a hole or something? The Newman govt was even arguing with Logan City Council as to whose responsibility it was to mow it. I don’t know what the state of it is now (I was curious, after having a weird dream about it, so that is what led me here, I was doing a search on it) but the CM reported a year of so back that it was over-run with high grass, rats and snakes. A health hazard in anyone’s language. Will anyone ever check to see what is happening on the site, or will people wait for an ‘explosion’ or something suspicious happening there before anyone even checks it out? Why aren’t the media on this?

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