Toxic metals and chemicals found in Hillsdale children's playground; Parker again fails to warn community

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The O’Farrell Government and Environment Protection Authority (EPA) have sat on information since May that reveals some of the most poisonous substances on earth are present in the soil in a Hillsdale children’s playground.

Testing of the soil at the Grace Campbell Reserve in Hillsdale revealed the presence of mercury, lead and chromium at several times acceptable standards, as well as toxic chemicals including DDT.

The results found:
• The presence of mercury, despite there being no safe limit for mercury (factsheet
below);
• Lead reading 3x the safe limit; and
• Chromium reading 2.5x the safe limit.

Despite knowing about these very serious risks, the Government and EPA failed to inform the local community and families who use the playground.

Shadow Environment Minister Luke Foley said this was the second time Environment Minister Robyn Parker and her regulator had failed to inform the public about toxic chemicals from an Orica facility.

"Robyn Parker almost lost her job over the Kooragang Island debacle, where she and her department failed to inform the local community about the release of toxic chemicals into the air around their homes," Mr Foley said.

"The Minister promised she would do better, yet now we have another community in Hillsdale who have been left in the dark yet again.

"Mercury emissions from the former Chlor-Alkali plant at Botany constitute the most serious ground contamination issue in NSW.

"The Government announced it would conduct a review and testing of mercury levels from the now Orica site in January, to ‘assess the potential for health risks to the adjacent community associated with mercury emissions from the former plant’.

"However, despite having these results since May showing dangerously high levels of the most dangerous substances on earth, the Minister and EPA haven’t told the local community who continue to use the park and playground.

"The people living in Hillsdale deserve answers from the O’Farrell Government. Why weren’t they told about the risks?"

Member for Maroubra, Michael Daley said: "Our community has a right to know about these chemicals. It is completely unacceptable that the Minister and EPA have sat on these test results."

*FACT SHEET: MERCURY

Mercury. Time to Act, United Nations Environment Programme 2013, has found:
- Mercury can seriously harm human health, and is a particular threat to the development of fetuses and young children.

- It affects humans in several ways. As vapour it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream when inhaled. It damages the central nervous system, thyroid, kidneys, lungs, immune system, eyes, gums and skin.

- Neurological and behavioural disorders may be signs of mercury contamination, with symptoms including tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches, and cognitive and motor dysfunction.

- In the young it can cause neurological damage resulting in symptoms such as mental retardation, seizures, vision and hearing loss, delayed development, language disorders and memory loss.

- Scientists recently concluded that children with higher levels of contamination are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Boucher et al., 2012).

- In cases of severe mercury poisoning, as occurred in the Minamata case in Japan, symptoms can include numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, narrowing of the field of vision, and damage to hearing and speech (EINAP).

- In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma and death have been known to ensue rapidly.