Landfill pollution in Tasmania

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Landfill pollution in Tasmania is one of the priority areas of the Tasmanian Public and Environmental Health Network, a community group dedicated to investigating and documenting the public and environmental health effects from pollution in the state of Tasmania, Australia.[1]

Proposed Hazardous Waste Landfill at Copping, Southern Tasmania

Background and Timeline

Tasmania’s first hazardous waste facility has been proposed for an existing landfill dump site at Copping in southern Tasmania. The site was chosen after nearly 20 years of procrastination by successive State Governments. In 2010 twelve southern Tasmanian councils making up the Southern Waste Strategy Authority (SWSA) commissioned Blue Environment Pty Ltd to undertake a review of waste management and governance practices to develop a coordinated vision.[2]

According to the public developer - Southern Waste Solutions - this Controlled Waste Facility at Copping will consist of a purpose-built structure (called a 'cell') that prevents discharge of materials into the surrounding environment. The cell will be allocated specific types of solid wastes only. No liquids will be received. The location of these wastes will be recorded so that, as technologies emerge, some materials may be recovered for recycling adding to the environmental benefits of the controlled waste facility. Once the cell is filled, another cannot be constructed without new approvals and public consultation.[3]. The existing Copping Landfill is recognised as a well-managed facility with best-practice environmental processes. It is owned by a joint local government authority, made up of interests from Clarence, Sorell, Tasman and Kingborough Councils.[3]

Public notification of the development application through the Sorell Council was advertised on 21 April 2012. [4] An adjoining landowner, Paul Reardon, documented the sequence of events up to the granting of approvals from the Council and the Tasmanian Environment Protection Agency.[5] The timeline details several occasions where this landowner with an interest in this development was obstructed from participation or not informed of decisions made on the development application. Approval from the EPA was sought and given before the development was submitted to the Sorell Council.[5]

The controlled waste identified by SWS as requiring additional levels of secure storage beyond what is required in a normal landfill are "soils and old building residue that have been contaminated with metallic compounds".[3]

"Although Tasmania has made significant efforts over the past twenty years or so to position itself as the clean and green State and has invested heavily in promoting this image", the Company maintains this facility is needed because Tasmania is "lagging behind the nation in our responsible disposal of ‘controlled waste’".[3]

"Tasmanian companies have been unable to dispose of their controlled waste due to the lack of a suitable facility resulting in numerous stockpiles of waste being scattered around Tasmania. This has therefore limited the ability of business to work towards best practice waste management. This is unsustainable and represents a risk of environmental damage. A permanent storage facility is required urgently."[3]

" Consistent with Tasmanian’s image of being ‘clean and green’, SWS is committed to establishimng a controlled waste facility to: [1] minimising the risk of pollutants entering the environment, [2] provideing confidence to existing businesses & investors, [3] protecting Tasmania’s clean and green credentials and [4] enhancing waste management practices in Tasmania. [3] In 2011 TPEHN highlighted how far behind the rhetoric of Clean, Green and Clever this island of approximately 68,000 sq kilometers, with a population of half a million, is.[6]


Site Placement, Geomorphology and Hydrology

Community Engagement

The Tasmanian Public and Environmemtal Health Network has called on the Tasmanian Greens (a minority partner in the Tasmanian Government) to advocate important reforms in existing legislation (Environment Management and Pollution Control Act, 2004) relating to the notification process for State-wide developments that require approvals from the Tasmanian Environmental Protection Agency.[7] Environment Tasmania (ET) highlighted the failings by Tasmanian propononets to engage with communities on contentious developments. “The merits and risks of this project are shrouded in a fog of misinformation and a failure to consult with relevant stakeholders. Peter Skillern of ET said: "When will proponents of such projects realise that much of the heartache could be avoided if there was open and honest dialogue with the community”.[8]

Wentworth Park waste dump - Howrah Tipsite

The Wentworth Park waste dump - Howrah Tipsite was established in 1961 by the Clarence Commission. In 1965 Poppy Lopatnuik, her husband and three young daughters moved into a newly built home in Howrah, a beachside suburb in Hobart, Tasmania. There had been two lagoons in the swampy area behind sand dunes[9] which had been infilled with domestic and industrial waste. During the 1960s and 1970s Tasmanian municipalities commonly used swampy low-lying land and old rock quarries as rubbish dumps. At the time the public relations message was such that these areas would be ultimately converted into much needed sports fields and outdoor parks.[10]

A personal biographical history of the Lopatniuk family, who lived in Howrah Beach area during this period is now covered in a new book titled Tomorrow's Children.[11]image here. The book is both a memoir and a record of activism.backgrond here It has been recently reviewed by the former head of the Tasmanian Integrity Commission, Ms Barbara Etter. review hereimage here ABC1 7.30 Report broadcast a story on the old Howrah Tipsite on 13 July 2012. [12] The Tasmanian Cancer Registrar and the Tasmanian Director for Public Health declined to be interviewed for the program, instead issuing a statement to the ABC: "We have done everything we reasonably could to help, and have been open and honest in communicating with Mrs Lopatniuk. No further comment will be issued." A follow up 7.30 Report story seeking a response from the Acting Director of the Menzies Research Centre [Hobart] on a putative cancer cluster investigation at Wentworth Park/Howrah was broadcast on 3 August 2012. [13]

Historical context - Howrah case study

Before European settlement the aboriginal people traversed and used the land behind the former lagoon now occupied by Wentworth Park sports and recreation area. In the early decades of settlement, Reverend Robert Knopwood lived at Lagoon Farm in the area now developed for housing and the Howrah Primary School.[14] In the 1820's this picturesque area was known as the Lagoon District and later called the Sandford ward within the Clarence Council .[15]

At the start of the 20th century there were a series of coastal lagoons stretching from Bellerive Bluff to Howrah Point, one was known as Bellerive Lagoon; it was used in photographs to highlight Hobart’s beautiful river and towering Mt Wellington.[16] Another set of similar lagoons occupied the low-lying land behind the coastal dunes behing Howrah beach. These lagoons were once natural places where waterfowl, including duck and snipe were recorded; the fresh water provided suitable habitat for frogs, eels and introduced trout.[17][18][19]

Clarence Council's approach to filling in these coastal lagoons with domestic waste began in the 1930s when the lagoon closest to Bellerive - Bellerive Lagoon - became the site of tipping of rubbish and raw sewage. The public health risk became so acute that it forced the authorities to drain the once natural lagoon and construct drains to the sea[18]; extensive sand-mining of the coastal dunes between the lagoon and the sea also took place at this time.[20] the Council stated that filling in Bellerive Lagoon required the removal of 32,000 cubic yards [~25,000 metric tonnes] of sand from the protective dunes on the seaward side of the lagoon and from the behind Howrah beach. "Near the beginning of the second beach [Howrah beach] an average depth of 6 ft of sand has been removed over an area of 200yds by 20yds"; the extent of dune destruction was such that tall Eucalypt trees were isolated on 'islands' surrounded by "cliffs" 6 ft high.[18]

The site of the present Clarence High School was formerly part of the Wentworth estate. The land was also used for horse stables, a training track and a commercial dairy were owned by the Chandler family; one of the two lagoons behind Howrah Beach became known as Chandler’s Lagoon.[14][21] Another large lagoon - known as Nation's Lagoon - was used by the Nation family to irrigate their fruit orchards. These two deep lagoons were linked by a long narrow natural channel; the lagoon system was still intact the late 1940's.[22]. Several residents of the Howrah area recall the lagoons being used to provide irrigation water for agriculture before the farmed areas were rezoned for residential uses and the lagoons drained and subsequently termed ‘swamps’. The lagoons occupied an area of approximately 25-35 acres and were only 2 to 3 meters above sea level, directly behind a naturally vegetated sand dune.[15] By 1960 extensive sand mining of the foreshore dunes by several landowners had reduced the dune cover by 60% and sand extraction over a large area was taking place behind the natural dunes; this jeopardised the low-lying area to erosion.[23]

In the post-war decades 1949-1974 Clarence municipality changed from a predominantly rural-farming community with the rapid expansion of eastern shore suburbs close to Hobart. The Sandford ward changed from a predominantly rural district to a suburban residential precinct of the Clarence Council. Development was happening at a fast pace and infrastructure had to be provided as the Council faced increasing costs. Residential expansion was occurring in many areas of the municipality with large amounts of rural land being rezoned. In 1957 Council became dysfunctional at governance and operational level.[15] The fight came to a head over rating of council land and when no resolution was acceptable the State Government dissolved the Council by an Act of Parliament and it was replaced by an appointed Commission.[15]

It was a period of urgent infrastructure development to provide water, sewerage, sealed roads, garbage collection & disposal, sports and recreation facilities and controlled building for an expanding human population. At this time all town planning and municipal authority rested with an non-elected commission - the Clarence Commission.[15] In the 1950’s the low-lying land behind Howrah Beach was identified as a potential site for a reclamation project which would allow the majority of two rural land grants to be rezoned for residential housing and the low-lying 'swamp' to be publicly acquired and used initially as a municipal tipsite to fill-in the area where the lagoons had existed and then convert the tipsite to a sports and recreation area.[15]

The three-member Commission was no longer representative of ratepayers in various areas; they were employed as unelected public servants. Some Clarence residents preferred this arrangement to an elected Council because they 'got on with the job'.[15] The urgency for essential infrastructure and tight budgets lead to arguments from sub-division developers.[15] Development of residential subdivisions in the Wentworth Park area occurred after the Howrah tipsite was operational and the waste dump continued to operate after homes were built and families moved in to occupy them.

"Wentworth Park was turned from a swamp and former tip to a fine sports area… in the late 1960’s the reclaimed Wentworth Park was turned from a mosquito-ridden marsh into hockey fields…".[15]

Conversion of wetlands in suburban areas had become quite common the world over. This was highlighted by Sir Frank Fraser Darling in the Reith Lectures of 1968:

"Sometimes lakes have been large enough for recreation and with some imaginative planting for amenity, the sites have become assets for the community. The situation is less happy when the local council buys the water-filled emptiness for the deposition of refuse, ultimately creating sterile land fit only to take on more buildings It is all a question of difference between an ecological approach and an unimaginative unbiological one concerned only with keeping down rates".[24]

Humans progressively changed Bellerive Lagoon, Chandler's Lagoon and Nation's Lagoon from natural wetland to wasteland and then appropriated the reclaimed area for urban subdivision and public open PDF

Bellerive-Howrah Basin - Geophysical features

In 1924 the Government Geologist, Perceval Nye examined in some detail the geography, geology and underground water resources of the greater Clarence district. Two low-lying basins at Bellerive and Howrah are surrounded by hills rising to 400ft (120m). The basin’s higher elevations is formed by Permian mudstones and Triassic sandstones intruded by Jurassic dolerite.[25] These coastal plains are composed of quaternary alluvial sands and gravels extending inland for a distance of up to 900m. Nye’s report also highlights the extensive removal of beach sands at several locations for building and other purposes.[25][26][27]. Nye also notes that the basin has extensive 'sub-artesian groundwater deposits' and that any bores sunk for groundwater closest to Derwent estuary are likely to be saline due to the porosity of the alluvium; the annual rainfall averages 530 mm per annum.[25]

Interference with the natural drainage from the Wentworth Park area into the Derwent estuary was again highlighted 50 years later in a commissioned geophysical assessmment study by Ms Simons.[23]

"Natural drainage to the bay and through the rivulets and sand dunes has been altered by fill and artificial drainage. The area behind the dunes has been filled, but a characteristic wet area behind the primary dunes remains. The area is filled over the former swamp and is still wet on the low-lying parts. ...It is apparent that whether the dune-trough is filled or not, it remains a seepage holding area, a natural guard against erosion...".[23]

After rain the report's author noted the in-filled dune-trough still became inundated with water seepage.[23]


Background on the development of the Howrah Tip

In May 1957 thirty seven acres of land behind Howrah Beach were excised from existing land titles and sold to a purchaser for £2,500.[28] In February 1961, a little less than 23 acres of low-lying coastal land was proclaimed in the Tasmanian Government Gazette as being set aside for "the purpose of disposal of refuse".[29] In March 1961 these 23 acres were sold to the Clarence Commission - an unelected local government authority - for £2,500; the land contained one of two natural coastal lagoons that the Commission wanted to use as a 'controlled tip site'.[30]. The compulsory acquisition was part of a larger parcel of land [150 acres] that was sub-divided for a range of land uses - a high school, a refuse disposal and a residental, real estate development. As part of the sale consideration in 1961, the Clarence Commission agreed to fill in four acres of the fourteen acres initially retained by the original purchaser - Mr Alan Bidencope - using ‘clean fill’; a section of private land proposed for residential sub-division. [30] The Clarence Commission stated that the 'cost of land' had been a consideration in purchasing the Bellerive Lagoon as this ‘was the only way in which such land could be acquired’.[31] Within a few years most of this four acres had also been acquired by the Clarence Commission, whilst Mr Bidencope progressed the development of a directly adjacent 10.4 acres for a 47 Lot house sub-division - Silwood Avenue".[32]

The landfill tip site was first made public on 17 June 1961 with Mr Charles Henry Hand, a former State politician and the chairman of the Clarence Commission assuring the general public that the decision to operate a ‘controlled tipping’ disposal site was made after ‘the most careful consideration’. The Public Health Department had been fully informed and the manner in which the operation would be conducted. The land to be reclaimed was described as ‘a low-lying swamp’ and a ‘breeding ground for flies and mosquitoes and completely useless in its present condition’.[31]

At the time this land was acquired, Mr Hand sought to reassure residents that the proposed dump would pose no risk. 'The chairman said that he was convinced there would be no menace to health whatever ... Strict control would be exercised from the start,' The Mercury newspaper reported.[31] In a similar vein, the Commission also stated that one of the reasons it favoured the development of a 'controlled' tip as it 'was the most effective way of reclaiming unsightly swamps and transforming them into badly needed recreation grounds'.[33] The chairman urged residents to 'put up with what would be a slight inconvenience for a relatively short period in the realisation that the work that was being carried out would be of permanent benefit to the youth of the future'.[31]

Community opposition to the siting of the tip close to existing residential areas was raised in numerous delegations to the Commission, at public meetings and via the local newspaper, The Mercury. Concerns raised included the inappropriateness of siting of a tip site next to schools, homes and gardens and a popular beach. The Commission countered these concerns stating that the purchased land was 'dead land' that would remain 'dormant for years' unless developed by them.[34] Mr A. Gow of the Clarence Progress Association said that in a few years when tipping was completed and sports and recreation areas were provided on the land it would do much to enhance land values in the area. 'All that is required to make a success of the scheme is to see that there are no possible grounds for objections - that the tip is properly controlled at all times. I don’t think there will be any reasons at all for objections. For one thing the Commission would be cutting its own throat, if it did not make a success of it', Mr Gow said.[34] The Commission told ratepayers that any change to another site for dumping waste including domestic garbage would involve higher rates. They argued that State health authorities were unanimous that controlled tipping - properly carried out - was neither objectionable nor harmful.[35] The Commission publicly dismissed community calls for alternative methods of dealing with garbage - incineration or composting - as expensive and unsatisfactory.[35] The Commission argued that controlled tipping was the low-cost means of waste disposal and at the same time 'reclaiming unsightly swamps' transforming them into 'badly needed recreation grounds'.[35] A Commission statement read: 'Under the system garbage is tipped and compacted with a tractor at a level 12 inches below the final surface. Soil which has been stockpiled for the purpose is then dozed over the refuse and further compacted. This process is repeated each day; the garbage always being completely covered and the work proceeding from day to day on a face which in the Howrah area will not exceed 6 feet depth. The tractor operator supervises all tipping and no indiscriminate dumping is allowed'.[35]

The Howrah site was selected because of four prime factors: (1) cost of preliminary works such as stone sea walls and drainage was low; (2) availability of covering materials was available on site; (3) centrally situated, minimising haulage costs; and (4) the reclaimed area would be converted to a sports and recreation area for community use.[35] 'No other site examined fulfilled these requirements satisfactorily, and any alternative site would have increased the cost of the [garbage disposal] service considerably. Factors contributing to these increased costs included such things as the purchase of covering material, the purchase and operation of an additional vehicle, wages, increased mileage for vehicles, and the cost of the development on the site before beginning garbage disposal in the area', the Commission statement said.[35]

The Mercury newspaper published many letters from Clarence residents from 19 to 30 June 1961.

"Few people realise that this marsh is above sea level and that it was drained many years ago and remained dry firm ground until it was dammed up for irrigation purposes".[36]

Mr D.G. Snare of Howrah wrote:

"It would appear that Commission will still be experimenting with the Howrah tip, so how long can they give residents the assurance that it will work and not be a smelly nuisance to the district?"[36]

The Mercury also reported that, according to Mr Hand, that the Director of Public Health, Dr H.M.L. Murray 'previously had expressed his satisfaction with the way in which tipping at the Kangaroo Bay refuse disposal site had been conducted.'[31] However, the Kangaroo Bay tip had no adjoining residential properties.

The Howrah tip became operational in early 1962 and continued to accept waste until September 1969.[37]. Chandler's swamp was filled with carted waste from the 7 foot (asl) contour closest to the foreshore to the 11 foot contour inland; waste progressively filled in this 'swamp' from January 1962 to September 1967.[37] The adjoining Nation's Swamp was filled - up to the 8 foot contour - between September 1967 and September 1969.[37]

In 2002 a Mineral Resources Report by Andrew Ezzy The effects of waste disposal on groundwater quality in Tasmania stated that the Howrah Landfill was an uncontrolled site.[38] There was no monitoring done during landfilling or when the landfill was opened up for housing.

Unbeknown to residents of the Wentworth Park area this landfill was a repository for used automotive and machinery oils from the time when it was opened. A local man - Basil Shearing - stated that he had personally dumped more than 36,000 litres of oil over four years and he did it under the direction of the supervisor – it was legal to do so.[39] It is unknown whether the Hydro Electric Commission was permitted to dump used transformer oils at the old Howrah tipsite.

New residential subdivisions and home construction next to the operating Howrah Tip

Large landowners with the support of Clarence Municipality began changing the natural geography behind Howrah Beach in the decades after the Second World War. The natural freshwater lagoons behind the beach were drained and rivulets 'piped' by 1958.[40] Stormwater and sullage outfall from new residential developments were being constructed. Both lagoons were drained and the extensive coastal dunes were mined for building sand. By 1974 a landscape consultant reported that half of the area covered by dunes had been mined and another 20% was seriously degraded or damaged from human activity.[23] The Tasmanian Government in association with the Clarence Commission took the first steps to acquire these low-lying foreshore areas for reservation and - it later transpired - as refuse disposal sites. By 1958 Chandler’s Lagoon had also been privately drained and the adjoining areas mined for sand. The other low-lying lagoon, Nation’s Lagoon was next to be drained and its sand resources extracted. By 1959 various areas of alienated and damaged land were identified by the municipal government for acquisition; none were suitable for residential sub-division. Through a series of negotiations with the larger land owners approximately 94 hectares (~230 acres) of this type of land was acquired from the late 1950s up to the early 1970s.[41] Dealings with particular landowners and property developers were fraught with concerns over valuations, re-thinks over which land would be purchased, and sympathetic arrangements allowing residential sub-division to co-exist along side the development of a large refuse landfill site. During the period 1959 and 1961 the Clarence Commission negotiated with the landowner of Chandler’s Lagoon. Minutes of meetings of the Clarence Commission during this time indicate the delicate negotiations that brought about its public purchase and the use of garbage waste to infill various areas of privately-owned land destined residential subdivision in 1964-65.[40] From 1962 to 1967 urban wastes were dumped into this natural wetland between the 7 to 11 foot asl contour.

Public protest against siting of a urban waste dump in this suburban area was immediate and strong, however, the Clarence Commission appeared to lack public interest and remained undeterred, claiming that all alternative waste management options were too expensive or impractical.[40] They publicly foreshadowed massive increases in rates based on the need to acquire other land in more remote locations requiring larger transport and labour costs. [At the time urban waste was an amalgam of unwanted consumer products as well as construction, agricultural and commercial wastes. Waste management was crudely done by tip-staff only seeking commodities that could readily resell, such as metals and bottles.] By mid-1961 the Howrah community demanded a public meeting with Commission representatives, three hundred people attended and a petition with 388 signature was submitted.[40] Rather than acknowledge their concerns the Commission wrote:

"Mr Hand, the Senior Commissioner warned the meeting that the Clarence Commission might find it necessary to adhere to the proposal to establish the reclamation area at Howrah. In this event the people had the remedy in their hands. They could organise the necessary petition for a Poll of electors to decide whether or not ‘’government’’ by the Commission would be continued in the Municipality".[40]

In the aftermath of the public meeting the Commission hastily set up a limited study to examine other waste disposal options. But by August 1961 opposition through a community group - ‘’Howrah Progress Association’’ - was met with a formal decision taken by the Commission that "in view of probable litigation the Commission is not prepared to have any further discussion on the reclamation area".[40]. Clarence Council Minutes during this period highlight the complexity of developing a large waste disposal facility within a ‘the largest growing municipality in Tasmania’ was evident to the local residents, the professional council employees and the Commissioners”.[40][42] The matter then tipped over requiring State Government interest.

By July 1966 3½ years after the tip became operational a 47-lot residential real estate complex [Silwood Avenue] had been developed on one side with an 18-lot extension to an existing residential subdivision at Correa Street and Bembil Street on the other side.[43] At that time at least 26 new homes had been constructed in these new subdivisions. By 1973 an further extension of Correa Street down to Salacia Avenue created further residental lots that were bulit on.[44] However in 1964,at least nine house lots on Silwood Avenue were deemed to be "unsuitable for building purposes until fill on these lots has consolidated". The Municipal Engineer, Mr R. N. Menzies maintained that these lots were within the 11 feet above sea level contour. Indeed, based on a building surveyor's report in November 1964, the Muncipal Engineer recorded in a Memorandum to the Council Clerk that "the Developers and the Enginerers had a moral duty" to inform purchasers of these home lots that they were unsuitable for building and would require "Municipal Engineer approval for building on any lots having fill to the 11-foot contour". [45]

Seven years after the Howrah tip site closed it still had not been landscaped or grassed over.[46]; in the summer the area was dry and barren and subject to localised dust-blows, whilst in the winter the rising ground table regularly brought polluted water from the buried tip to the surface. The infill of the two lagoons - latterly referred to as 'swamps' - resulted in the ground settling unevenly. Newly installed childrens' play equipment on the public parkland had to moved to prevent them from subsiding into water-logged ground.[47] Houses built on Silwood Avenue after 1965 were built directly over part of the tip, whilst low-lying properties in the Bembil/Correa/Salacia sub-division were subject to rising ground-water flooding their gardens, pathways and foundations. At one house site a builder recalls excavation of "tyres, assorted plastic items, bottles, old toys and household appliances... a black gooey substance was also unearthed".[47] At another house site construction the footings were dug down 4 metres through unstable rubbish infill as a recommended measure against ground subsidence.[47]

During the seven years of the tip's operation it had been a dump for used oils; a fact that residents were ignorant of. During the 1960s many suburban service stations existed along Rokeby Road [now Clarence Street]. A local man, Basil Shearing went public in 2003 stating that he had dumped 20-30 44-gallon drums of used oils every year for at least 4 years at the Howrah tip; this was under the direction of tip supervisor.[11]


Building Suburbia around and on top of coastal lagoons in-filled with urban garbage

By July 1966 3½ years after the tip became operational a 47-lot residential real estate complex [Silwood Avenue] had been developed on one side with an 18-lot extension to an existing residential subdivision at Correa Street and Bembil Street on the other side.[48] At that time at least 26 new homes had been constructed in these new subdivisions. By 1973 an further extension of Correa Street down to Salacia Avenue created further residental lots that were built on.[49] However in 1964, at least nine house lots on Silwood Avenue were deemed to be "unsuitable for building purposes until fill on these lots has consolidated". When the Silwood Avenue subdivision was being considered in 1964 the following condition of developmemt was imposed on the developer and his consulting engineers.

"Lot 9-12 inclusive [i.e. house numbers 17, 19, 21 & 23] and lots 21-25 inclusive [i.e. house numbers 41, 43, 54, & 58] by reason of the 11 feet contour passing through the 60 feet diameter circle are unsuitable for building purposes until any fill on these lots has consolidated. Approval for building on any lots having fill to the 11 ft. contour is to be subject to Municipal Engineer's approval".[50] [Houses were built on lots 23 and 25 by mid-1966 and lots 10, 11, 12 by mid-1967; all these lots had homes erected on them by 1977.]

The Municipal Engineer, Mr R. N. Menzies maintained that these lots were within the 11 feet above sea level contour. Indeed, based on a building surveyor's report in November 1964, the Muncipal Engineer recorded in a Memorandum to the Council Clerk that "the Developers and the Engineers had a moral duty" to inform purchasers of these home lots that they were unsuitable for building and would require "Municipal Engineer approval for building on any lots having fill to the 11-foot contour".[50] Mr Menzies was forthright in his assessment of the subsidences of two homes in Silwood Avenue in 1974. "Water main leakage is not contributing to the raising of the ground water level; the natural water level variation of the original lagoon [Chandler's lagoon] is more likely still occurring from catchment rainfall; there is some doubt relative to the houses affected as to whether they are partly constructed over reclaimed ground; council should have insisted on spread footings and pier & beam foundations for these houses [17 & 19 Silwood Avenue], particularly the sections of these houses on reclaimed ground; the developer should have made the situation quite clear at time of purchase that these blocks were reclaimed on garbage and the owner/builder should have taken the necessary foundation precautions.[50]

Property owner concerns continued into the early 1980s when a test hole at 17 Silwood Avenue was dug and inspected by council officials. A formal memo was written about "the damage to the dwelling as a result of its location on the tip reserve".

The Council's Assistant Building Surveyor, reported on observations on a inspection trench. "The location of the hole was at the rear right hand corner of the dwelling, approximately 1.0m out from the rear wall." A shallow cover of garden soil (~22.5cm deep)overlay garbage to a depth of 1.5 metres; below this was natural sand of the area. The trench "revealed a depth of tip fill measuring from ground level a depth of 1.5m, then it appeared to extend into virgin ground and finally finished at a depth of 2.3 m. ... Visible contact was impossible as the hole was continally making water. It could not be determined what the existing dwelling footings were founded on as the test hole did not reveal them".[51][52]

Seven years after the Howrah tip site closed it still had not been landscaped or grassed over.[53]; in the summer the area was dry and barren and subject to localised dust-blows, whilst in the winter the rising ground table regularly brought polluted water from the buried tip to the surface. The infill of the two lagoons - latterly referred to as 'swamps' - resulted in the ground settling unevenly. Newly installed childrens' play equipment on the public parkland had to moved to prevent them from subsiding into water-logged ground.[47] Houses built on Silwood Avenue after 1965 were built directly over part of the tip. A builder recalls the excavation of "tyres, assorted plastic items, bottles, old toys and household appliances... a black gooey substance was also unearthed".[47] In the case of one house site construction, the footings were dug down 4 metres through unstable rubbish infill as a recommended measure against ground subsidence.[47]

"The baby boom and the surge in the economy after World War II led to rapid urbanisation throughout Australia. Bellerive and Howrah Beaches were not immune to this. The lagoon located behind the dunes became a tip site. After filling, it was topped with soil and developed as a recreational area - Wentworth Park." [54]

Health impacts in the local area

Long-term local resident, Poppy Lopatniuk, states that:

"There have been well in excess of 35 cancer diagnoses to adults and eleven auto-immune illnesses to children that I have documented mainly in the two residential areas at either end of the landfill, all from families who settled in the area in the ten years after the residential building started and the tipsite still partially operating. Subsequent families who have come to live in the streets after the first ten years have not been affected by ill-health."
"My son was born 3 years after we arrived – he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia when 8 yrs old – he was in remission at 14 years of age and relapsed in 2001 – underwent bone marrow transplant and died in 2003. My grandson [his mother lived in area for 25 yrs] was diagnosed with cranio-pharyngioma brain tumour in 1998, this a one-in-a-million disease and apart from medication the family is just left to deal with the tragic and disabling consequences. Another daughter has Lupus erythematosis and Hashimoto’s disease, while another has Raynard’s disease. My husband died of Alzheimers in 2000."
"Close neighbours suffered a rare bone cancer and a teratoma cancer – both of these cancers are uncommon. Among the other cancers were kidney, liver, throat, uterine and lung cancer to non-smokers, also leukaemias and non-Hodgkins Lymphomas. I knew of two cancer victims who beside their primary cancer also had brain tumours. A teacher from a Wentworth Park School diagnosed with chemical sensitivity and leads a severely curtailed life. Eleven children suffered auto-immune diseases and these children were in homes all in close proximity to one another."
"It was in late 1998 when my grandson’s brain tumour had been diagnosed that I started approaching the Clarence Council and Health Department for answers.[55] The council denied that the soil was tested for contamination.[56]

An ABC documentary on this health issue was broadcast in 2003. It took Judy Tierney, investigative journalist, almost a year trying to get any evidence from reluctant bureaucracy. Other neighbours who had lost family members from cancer appeared on this programme and we all asked for accountability from the government and an investigation into the cause of this very high incidence of cancer mortality and auto immune illness. Dr Roscoe Taylor, Director of Public Health appeared on the programme and Dr. Mark Jacobs the outgoing Director of Public Health, who did not appear on the programme, both quoted Tasmanian Cancer Registry figures as showing there was not a cancer cluster in this area. Phillip Tattersall, a soil scientist expressed extreme concern about the burnt engine oils and waste chemicals disposed of in such close vicinity to residences and he stated that the area should be classified as a hazardous site.[39]

Dr Taylor conceded that the no formal testing of Wentworth Park residents or their garden soil (where vegetables had been grown) had been undertaken. Tasmania’s Director of Public Health could not understand how "buried substances…could percolate up to the top".[39] He told the ABC if there was "evidence of groundwater consumption in that area" he would "certainly be looking for more information… [however] at this point in time there isn’t any suggestion of an abnormal pattern of illness on the cancer statistics that we’ve analysed or that the Menzies Centre commented on".[39] The Menzies Research Centre study based on the Tasmanian Cancer statistics, its methodology or analysis was never released publicly.

In the aftermath of Tierney's story, The Mercury published a number of stories on Wentworth Park controversy including interviews with Lopatniuk and Dr Taylor where the issue of contamination at Wentworth Park was raised.[57] Three editorials in The Mercury were devoted to the issue in the few days round this time.[58][59][60]

One of the articles on front page of The Mercury told the story of the Kerslake family, of whom five members all lost their lives to cancer – all lived in houses bordering the former landfill site.[61] Another story was on the death of Ms Elly Bolt’s brother, Jim, who died of leukemia. He had grown vegetables in soil not far from controversial Howrah tip and been diagnosed with a rare cancer when 34 years of age and died at 61 years of leukaemia.[62]

Also appearing in the paper in late April a feature regarding Judy Jackson, the then Environmental Health Minister - reference being made to the Cancer Registry's statistics on cancer in the Howrah area. These statistics were not defined down to streets but across the 7018 postcode which incorporated Wentworth Park residential subdivision and included the suburbs of Mornington, Rosny, Howrah and Bellerive. The Menzies Research Centre - a partnership medical facility between the University of Tasmania and Government - stated that they had not been asked to investigate cancer cases reported round the Wentworth Park landfill site as Mrs. Jackson had stated. Jackson also claimed that the landfill site had been used only for domestic waste.[63] However, the Tasmanian Minister for Health, David Llewellyn, refused to release the data which had been provided by the Menzies Institute. The Director of Public Health, Roscoe Taylor, also refused to release the data claiming that "there is no cover-up". According to The Mercury Roscoe "said the information could be misinterpreted, would not be statistically helpful and could cause undue alarm".[64] Photographs taken one month after the ABC documentary being broadcast, showed extensive earth-moving and draining work began in lowlying wet areas within the Wentworth Park recreation area.[65] Community monitoring of flooding at Wentworth Park after rain events is continuing.[66]

An initial undated and anonymous report was produced for the Director or Public Health in 2004.[67] This report indicated that "residents of Howrah perceived there was a high rate of cancers in their suburb, particularly in the vicinity of Wentworth Park, in an area that had previously been sand-mined then reclaimed by using it as a landfill site for domestic waste from 1962-1969".[67] The study attempted to refine the cancer statistics from 1978 to 2001 based not on a postcode area of approximately 18,000 people but one confined to the suburb of Howrah with a census population of 7,500. The data on this smaller population was obtained from the Tasmanian Cancer Register.[67]

Approximately half of the people who died from cancers or suffered illnesses and who had been of the original families settling in the area were diagnosed and/or died after leaving the Wentworth Park area. These individuals would not have been picked up in 7018-postcode or Howrah suburb figures collated by the Cancer Registry. All residents of the newly built homes adjoining Wentworth Park waste disposal site from 1964 onwards can be accurately determined using established databases. This putative at risk data set can then be the starting point to determine a time interval for each person living in the area. It can also be used to track any movements to other parts of Tasmania (or elsewhere) and to access their health records.


Response to the Media Coverage

There was much remedial action taken by the Clarence Council on the Wentworth Park grasslands after the ABC programme[65] and it was only then that the Minister for Health agreed to a wide ranging comprehensive independent investigation. Tenders were called for firms to undertake the investigation and URS Australia Pty. Ltd. were chosen by a panel comprising:

  • Colleen Cole, Senior Environmental Officer, Environment Division Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (DPIWE);
  • Joseph Tranter, Environmental Officer, Environment Division DPIWE;
  • Ron Van der Wal, Senior Environmental Health Officer, Clarence City Council; and
  • Martin Bicevskis, Senior Medical Officer, Department of Health and Human Services Tasmania (DHHS).

In the Expression of Interest – Statement of Requirements – called for by the DPIWE it was stated that "the Consultant must consult with DPIWE on the sampling plan prior to sampling being undertaken and must also consult with DPIWE (who will then consult with DHHS and Clarence City Council) on the draft report, including results of the HRA, prior to submission of the final report."[68]

On July 2nd 2004 The Mercury reported that testing at the former tip site had commenced.[69] In a letter to Mrs Lopatniuk, URS explained that sampling had been undertaken at twenty-two locations including "nine soil bores, six soil gas wells and seven groundwater wells."[70]

URS Australia Pty Ltd. Final Report was prepared for DPIWE and dated 29th September 2004 stated that "no leachate was found on the sites and no oil residues".[71] The Consultant had told Lopatniuk that they were aware that waste oil was thought to have been disposed at the site. The exact locations within the site where this activity is thought to have occurred were unknown. However, Judy Tierney had spoken to the man who directed operations at the tipsite; he was living in the locality at the time of URS investigation.[39]

On 7th October 2004 Mrs Jackson and Mrs. Edwards, the Mayor of Clarence fronted the media at Wentworth Park stated that the former landfill was declared safe for users of Wentwork Park.[72] URS chief consultant, Jeff Bazelmans, said when asked about whether contaminant levels could have decreased over time, said "the values we found are extremely low. I can't speculate on what happened in the past, so I can't give you a definitive answer to that."[73]

Walking the site and comparing maps of the orginal extent of Wentworth Park dump site, Lopatniuk considered that the soil bores were sunk in the high surrounds of the tip area and on compacted roadways and not from the lowlands or actual tipsites.[74]

There was no epidemiology study done prior or during this investigation. Lopatniuk obtained a copy of an assessment of the URS Report done through the Canberra Toxics Network. John Craven, Environmental consultant did the assessment which argued that an epidemiology study should have preceded the investigation. It also raised questions about the thoroughness of the URS investigation.[71]

According to Lopatniuk, most the people who have died from cancers were the gardeners within their families – the children with auto-immune illnesses were the children who walked over the finished landfills on their way to schools. "Being a landfill I can remember there was a lot of spraying to keep mosquitos and vermin down Council would not enumerate on what chemicals would have been used".[75]

The Tasmanian Director of Public Health, Dr Taylor responded to a wave of new publicity on the cancer claims within the Wentworth Park area in September 2008.

"While cancer is on the rise in Tasmania, analysis of Cancer Registry data found the incidence in the area are not excessive and not significantly different to ratios in other parts of the state [Tasmania]. Clearly any former tip site will have increased concentrations of substances quite different from background trends and these [substances] may well be present in increased concentrations. What I say is that if any such localised concentration was indeed in the sampling that took place across the site - which included groundwater as well as soil - it is not plausible that it could have been significant enough or have caused exposure pathways that could give rise to the cancers that have been reported".[76][77]

In September 2008 soil scientist, Mr Philip Tattersal wrote to the Premier David Bartlett about the ongoing community concerns about Wentworth Park, its reclaimed landfill areas and the adjoining residential streets.[78]


Response from Government

After numerous attempts by Tasmanian politicians to encourage the Government to undertake an independent and thorough investigation into the human cancers at Wentworth Park, it has remained unconvinced.[79] The then Minister for the Environmemt, Ms Judy Jackson said: "Obviously the Department of Environment & Planning and the Department of Health & Human Services [DHHS] have both said that they do not believe that the cancers [at Wentworth Park] were caused by the tip but maybe we do need to look at what is in the tip and that way we will try to alleviate the concern of Mrs Lopatniuk and other people".[79] A comprehensive study of the content of this landfill tip was not done.

Minister Jackson went on: "My department also advises that considerations were made of the potential pathways that might expose residents to pollutants from any material that might have been disposed at the [tip] site. If mobile contaminants existed, it is likely that they would have flowed down gradient rather than across gradient to the houses adjacent to the former tip. The houses were not built on the former tip site but were are adjacent to it and this also reduces the potential of exposure pathways".[79]

Based on the media response to Mrs Lopatniuk's claims the Director of Public Health requested an analysis of cancer statistics from the Howrah suburb for the period 1978-2001. The unpublished report relates to a residential population of ~7550 people.[80]here PDF

Mr Jeremy Rockliff, Liberal spokesperson for the environment highlighted the deficiencies in the epidemiological survey into the claim that a cancer cluster existed in residential subdivisions adjoining Wentworth Park. "The Minister [Mrs Jackson] was satisfied to rely on merely using secondary statistical research data from the Tamanian Cancer Registry, which the Menzies Centre had collected on the whole of the suburb of Howrah. Mrs Jackson stated that there was no evidence of contamination; Menzies Centre Acting Director, Alison Venn, said they had not been asked to investigate the area surrounding Wentworth Park. Well Mr Speaker, if you do not look, you do not find; if you do not investigate you will never know. A closer look at Wentworth Park is needed".[79]

Contributing to the debate, the then Minister for Health and Human Services, David Llewellyn told the Parliament: "I am advised, as Health Minister, that three out of four households across Tasmania will be affected by having a family member suffer from cancer over a life span, so it is against this backdrop that we have to analysed these [Wentworth Park] statistics".[79]

In February 2003 the then Director of Environmental Management, Warren Jones wrote to Mrs Lopatniuk: "Samples from groundwater monitoring [at Wentworth Park] will not assist in determining whether groundwater was contaminated at the time that you have advised us thatthe diseases and cancers developed in the area.[11] When the URS study of Wentworth Park went ahead in 2004, Mrs Lopatniuk asked: why were the test bores dug in places where they were least likely to find contamination? And why weren't the actual tip sites and the lower grounds towards the beach, where the leachates would have drained to, tested?[11]

"As hard as it has been to deal with the apparent lies and evasions of the Clarence City Council officers and the Director of Public Health, it was the injustice done to the many people who trusted what they were told and have suffered and died from preventable cancers, and the utter disregard for human life that has kept me going on this quest for justice for the victims". [page 83][11]
"This to-ing and fro-ing by all government agencies and passing the buck is systematic of how I [Poppy Lopatniuk] have been treated since 1998 and it makes me very ashamed of the Tasmanian government and its lies and deception".[page 87][11]

Response from Public Health Regulator

In December 2008 the Tasmanian Director of Public Health, Dr Roscoe Taylor wrote 6-page letter to an environmental toxicologist and a medical practitioner concerning the claims of a cancer cluster in the vicinity of Wentworth Park.[81] Dr Taylor acknowledges that Mrs Lopatnuik’s information on human cancer deaths and diagnoses in the area was basis for his response to these two professionals; a courtesy copy of Dr Taylor’s letter was not sent to Mrs Lopatnuik until June 2010. Specially the two scientists asked: " Why would the government use a population group of 7,500 people over 23 years (1978 to 2001) when the area described as having a high rate of cancer and disease is much smaller and seemingly well localised around the tip site?" Dr Taylor acknowledged the ‘limitations’ in a broader area investigation. He stated “the information on age and sex-specific resident population around the tip site for the last few decades was unavailable" and therefore "use of Howrah suburb as the defined geographic area of interest (Wentworth Park) was regarded as the smallest area that it was statistically feasible to formally assess whether a cancer cluster exists in the area". He goes on to state: "…as an additional and somewhat unusual step, I obtained from the Cancer Registry details of cancer incidences for the five streets [not identified] in the immediate vicinity of Wentworth Park, for the period 1978-2001. I used my statutory powers as Director of Public Health to obtain these data. I twice showed Mrs Lopatnuik the results of the analysis of these finer-level data and discussed them with her in the presence of others. But [I] was not at liberty to release the details in hard copy form because of their potentially identifying nature and confidentiality concerns." Dr Taylor goes on to state: "I can however provide you [Dr Bleaney and Mr Tattersall] with the summary findings." Concern remains over the thoroughness of the discovery of cancer statistics on all residents of the area for the period 1978-2001.

"An estimate was made of the number of occupants in those households and the number of registered (observed) cancer cases was compared with the number of expected cases, and 95% confidence interval tests were applied. The result was there were 32 registered case of cancer from that area compared with an expected number of 37; giving an Observed: Expected ratio of 87 (95% CI 59.2-122.1). Statistically this also suggested that there was no abnormal incidence occurring in the area".[81]
"As I explained to Mrs Lopatniuk, although there are inevitably some assumptions and statistical difficulties associated with such an approach - not the least of which is the small-area problem of weak statistical power and dealing with random variation), this provided me with some reassurance that there was unlikely to be any local cancer cluster. There is also the issue that some residents who had moved away from the area would not show up on the [Cancer] Registry as being from the Wentworth Park area. This has been acknowledged, but at the same time it should be also noted that if people who had left the area were somehow included in the analysis, the the number of "person-years" of follow up would increase substantially, and along with this there would be an increase in the statistically ‘expected’ numbers of cancers". [81]

Documentation on the methodology used in this 'fine-level' analysis of the Wentworth Park area, the identity of the 'five streets' used and the 'summary findings' were not provided to Mrs Lopatniuk. To date publication of Dr Taylor's 2008 findings in a scientific journal or DHHS report has not occurred. Following a recent request to share the summary findings Dr Taylor again declined 'for reasons of confidentiality it is not appropriate to provide the raw data on which these statistics are based'.[82]

Dr Taylor's letter acknowledges that "people began moving into the area from around 1965", and cites latency periods between the first exposure to a cancer-causing and clinical diagnosis...usually up to 15-20 years or longer.[83] According to Dr Taylor "some of the best evidence of cancer-causing agents in the environment come from recognition of excess numbers of a single (usually rare) cancer type, in association with exposure" - examples offered are vinyl chlorine and liver cancer and asbestos and mesothelioma. Dr Taylor states "the available records do not have details of all the items disposed of at this domestic tip site". In reference to the presence of organic pollutants such as Poly-aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Poly-chlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) and Dioxins, Dr Talyor states these persistent chemicals "have not been widespread in the tip site and if present would have shown up in the soil and groundwater conducted in the groundwater years later - but they did not”.[81] A major deficiency in the URS Final Report[71] was that soil and groundwater testing did not cover the area where the tip was located.

Eleven humans under the age of 65 years died around the tip site and had an average age of 20.4 years. Dr Taylor responds that “the unfortunate reality is that cancers can and do occur in younger people as well as older people. We do not use mortality statistics for this investigation because they are generally not as good an indicator for use in cancer cluster investigations of late occurrence, accuracy of description of cause of death on death certificates and small number issues."[81] This reasoning suggested that Dr Taylor questioned attributing the “cause of death” of these humans to cancer. Dr Taylor concludes:

"…it is highly unlikely that a cancer cluster has occurred in this area: there is no identified carcinogen in the area nor useful evidence to indicate that there may have been such a carcinogen; the potential exposure pathways for any postulated (but undetected) contaminants that have been suggested to date would appear to be very limited; a range of different diseases and cancer types have been identified that do not suggest a pattern or local environmental cause; and the epidemiological investigations for all their possible limitations - in no way suggest a cancer excess."

Dr Taylor completes his 19 December 2008 letter to Dr Bleaney and Mr Tattersall with, "there is really no public health grounds to support a further follow-up study for the residents who have moved out from the area".[81]

In her recent book, Tomorrow's Children Poppy Lopatniuk writes:

"What I did not know then was that almost every public official I would contact in the many years to come would quote the Cancer Registry figures as their basis for denying that there had been at health problem at the old Howrah tip site. The reiteration by the Director of Public Health and the Cancer Registry figures show no significant increases in rates of any type of cancer (or all cancers combined) in the area and that the cancer data are reliable, is very misleading, in my opinion. About 50% of the cancers, when they eventuated, occurred in family members who had moved elsewhere and so they did not show up in the Cancer Registry figures, which were compiled by postcode [7018]...the 7018 postcode which covers a huge area, including Bellerive, Rosny, Warrane, Howrah, Tranmere and Mornington. This is a very important part of my argument".[11]

[Research into the public health grounds to support a further follow-up study continues. The database of the putative 'at risk' population has been prepared from official sources; this database can be made available to bona fide interested researchers upon request.[84]]

Landfill Impact Assessment

Flow diagrams have been constructed to assist public healh officials in completing health risk assessments of communities living in close proximity to waste landfill sites. Researching the source, the exposure pathways, the hydro-geology and the demographic health data are fundamental to any comprehensive health risk assessment investigation.[85]pdf here


Other hazardous dump sites linked to cancer

Victorian Hazardous Waste Landfills

Lyndhurst Hazardous Waste Landfill is Victoria’s largest hazardous waste dump.[86] A community of residents from the adjoining suburbs has raised concerns about birth defects and a high cancer could have been associated with the dump or a nearby industrial zone. The landfill dump occurs in the suburb of South Dandenong and is licensed to accept “category B waste” which includes contaminated soil, stabilised industrial waste and demolition wastes from industrial sites. The adjoining industrial zone processes more hazardous wastes to make them acceptable as “category B waste” for dumping.

A Community group - RATWISE, Residents Against Toxic Waste in the South East - is compiling case study data on human medical conditions - including congenital abnormalities - associated with possible chemical exposure. The residents group was calling on the Victorian Environment Protection Authority to undertake health screening of humans in the adjoining residential areas and proper monitoring of the dump site. A spokesperson for the company that manages the landfill dump site SITA has welcomed the call for a health study but called for a thorough investigation of the Dandenong Industrial Zone for other hazardous exposure risks for residents such as a dangerus good store, industrial incinerators and other waste treatment facilities. In May 2010 the Victorian Health Department was planning a study of human health concerns in the area.

In March 2010 the Greater Dandenong Council Mayor Jim Memeti released a statement expressing impatience at the amount of time it's taking for the Victorian Government to respond to the request which was made in 2007; the Council asked the State Government to conduct an independent community health assessment.[86] The Council statement reads: “The City of Greater Dandenong has twice since requested that this independent community health assessment be undertaken as a priority. The Greater Dandenong Council and community are clearly concerned about this region being targeted as the state's sole repository for high order contaminants. Council is now waiting on the results of a community health assessment and is particularly anxious to receive these.[86]

At another supposedly sealed toxic waste dump near Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport concerns were raised over the health of residents from the surrounding residential area.[87] The Western Regional Environment Centre conducted a survey into the incidence of cancer in the adjacent communities; the survey showed higher cancer rates. The toxic landfill site opened in 1972 with residences within 200 meters of it; the waste dump closed in 2008. For 36 years the waste dump accepted contaminated oils and other hazardous waste. Faced with years of State Government inaction, the residents of Westmeadows commissioned their own study into the incidence of cancer in their community. Mr Harry Van Moorst, the director of the Western Region Environment Centre helped compile the study. "The community gathered this data in 2006/7 as a consequence of finding a whole lot of community incidences of various illnesses for people living around the landfill and so they did a bit of their own survey because they weren't happy with what the government claimed was an effective [Government-sponsored] survey", Dr Van Moorst said. "The Department of Human Services survey simply failed to look at the actual areas that were vulnerable to the health impacts of the landfill, mainly those areas that are within say three of four kilometers. Whereas what was required was a very close study of the vulnerable area within the three or four kilometer area, and the prevailing winds from the land fill", Mr Van Moorst said. The Cancer Rate in the area of some 6,000 people living close to the landfill is considerably higher than that for residents of Broadmeadows in general and higher than Melbourne as a whole. Mr Moorst claimed the cancer rates were just over four times higher than Boardmeadows community generally. The most common cancer types reported were breast and prostate cancers, but also leukaemia, liver and pancreatic cancers were also recorded. It is claimed the landfill site was not properly lined originally and only parts of the dump site are lined today. Leaking has occurred into a nearby creek and the use of ground water has already been banned due to chemical contamination. The site is estimated to contain 30 million litres of hazardous, contaminated oily liquids which are very difficult to extract.[87]

In July 2010 the Victorian Cancer Council undertook a review of the cancer rates amongst those living near the Tullamarine hazardous waste dump. A more recent report also funded by the local residents recorded 68 more cancers and Cancer Rates eight times higher than the rates reported from the rest of Melbourne.[88] A difference of opinion exists over the quality and extent of the seal placed over this contaminated waste dump. The Victorian Environment Minister maintains that the Department of Health’s cancer survey "demonstrarted that there was nothing unusual our out of kilter with the normal limits of what you would expect", however, according to Mr van Moorst this government survey had looked at the cancer rates across all of the Broadmeadows area and should have been restricted to only the area immediately surrounding the dump.[88]

Cancer Cluster Research

Almost all cases of cancer clusters and contaminated communities, from Love Canal* onwards, have been discovered by citizen activists – not by scientists, nor government agencies. This is because no governmental agency or scientific body engages in routine surveillance that would uncover sentinel health events.[89] [* Love Canal was the upstate New York community whose residents had been evacuated in 1978 when 20,000 tons of industrial chemicals were discovered buried under their house foundations.]

Britain and Wales established national cancer registries after World War II; by 1962 full geographical coverage was achieved. Cancer mapping in small areas of England revealed that children face increasing risk of cancer diagnosis if they live within a few kilometres of certain industries - especially those involving large-scale use of petroleum or chemical solvents. The cancer hazard in children tapers off with distance and the relationship was stronger for birth address than their address at the time of diagnosis. These findings suggests prenatal exposure to environmental carcinogens is relevant to childhood cancer diagnoses.[90]

On two recent occasions[91][67] the Tasmanian Director of Public Health has invoked a 2003 statement or reference from a North American workers' union - Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE)[92] - on their claimed criteria to commence an investigation of cancer clusters[93]; the full citation was not provided.

The PACE cancer cluster criteria referred to by Dr Taylor are:

a large number of cases of one type of cancer, rather than several different types of cancers;
a rare or unusual type of cancer rather than a common type; and
a number of a certain type of cancer in age groups not usually affected by that cancer.

More authoritative references to cancer cluster criteria are available.[94][95] Despite the establishment of these criteria for single carcinogens or point-of-exposure studies, their relevance to sites contaminated with various carcinogens is unknown.

Convention has determined that epidemiologists investigate suspected clusters of unusual disease occurrences. Whilst it is acknowledged that new cases of ‘primary cancers’ form the dataset of any cancer cluster analysis, defining the boundaries both in space and time for such cluster investigations is crucial to a meaningful and professional investigation. Cancer cluster research amongst workers resulting from occupational workplace exposure offer the clue. Such cohort studies where higher levels of exposure to putative hazardous chemicals over prolonged periods are compared against an unexposed cohort (age/sex-standardised) provide important insights regarding causes of cancers in other human habitation settings. These occupational case-control studies - of which there are now many hundreds world-wide - have identified specific chemical carcinogens and therefore provide forensic basis for cancer-causing exposures in other situations.[94] Considerations for cancer cluster investigations include: (1) to accurately define the number of people who are considered “at risk” and (2) to estimate the "person-years" of likely exposure; the latency between exposure and diagnosis is also relevant to the data analysis.[94] One of the obstacles often cited by local health officials in community-based cancer cluster investigations is a hestitancy in defining the population at risk “because people change residence from time to time” making it difficult “to identify previous exposures and to find what kind of cancer a person had”.[94]

Determining whether a cancer cluster exists in small communities of a few thousand or a few hundred inhabitants is acknowledged to be very difficult research and it is at this level where the fiercest arguments emerge.[90] Determining through ecological studies that communities near hazardous waste sites suffer from excessive rates of cancer is one form of investigation; determining whether one particular community has an elevated cancer rate due to exposure to one particular waste site is a very different study.[90] It is the second type of investigation most people are interested in - i.e. the health of a particular group of humans living in family homes and local neighbourhoods. Almost all such cancer cluster studies are initiated by alert citizens collating local health data and contacting their health departments to request investigations. According to Dr Sandra Steingraber many public officials are dismissive when the subject of community-level cancer clusters is raised. "Some officials consider the investigation of alleged clusters a disparaged practice and lament the inability of common people to grasp the statistical concept of randomness.... the message is relayed back to those vigilant citizens seeking explanations is that their questions are misguided. Too rarely are they told that the tools of epidemiology are just too blunt to provide answers".[90]

Cancer registries, which could function as early-warning systems, publish their results in obscure almanacs and do not actively investigate communities where cancer rates are elevated. Often, as Brown notes, these communities are never even informed that their cancer rates are statistically excessive.[89]

Assessing a putative human cancer cluster based on focal environmental exposure – in space & time – requires basic information:(1) the number of humans in the at risk population and (2) identifying the time period of carcinogen exposure. An effective method tracking the ‘whole of the life’ movement of at risk individuals and access to their health records [e.g. - diagnoses of cancers, metabolic, degenerative and endocrine-disrupting disorders] is also required.[90]

Based on published Tasmanian Cancer Registry data at least 3 local government areas have cancer incidences above the overall State average - Clarence, Glenorchy and Sorell.[96]


Other recent cancer clusters investigated by community researchers - Australia

In the late 1990s an extraordinary number of young Australians in the Wollongong-Port Kembla area in the state of New South Wales died of leukaemia and lymphoma.[97]. A community-initiated review of these cancer cases & their causes was triggered after no obvious action was taken by the New South Wales state government, the NSW Cancer Council or the local Illawarra Area Health Service. This review examines a specific cluster of leukaemia and lymphoma cases in the Warrawong area within the highly industrialised City of Wollongong-Port Kembla; cancer cases that were officially notified to the NSW Cancer Registry. NSW Cancer Council statistics show that - for at least two decades - humans living and working near Port Kembla were more likely to suffer leukaemia and other cancers that those living at a distance. Taking six local postcode areas for which stable population data are available, the average rate of leukaemia diagnosis was nearly 10 times higher within the population living within 4 km radius from the Port Kembla industrialised zone compared to those living 18 kilometers away (Leukaemia incidence at Berkeley of 4/1000 compared to 0.47/1000 at Minnamurra).[97] the report state that on average, the overall cancer rate was 6.5 times higher in the Wollongong-Port Kembla suburbs closest to the industrial area than at distance.[97]

Normandale subdivision, Illinois, USA

The headline of the Pekin Daily Times of March 6, 1992 was: Study - No Cancer Cluster.[90]

'In 1992 Tazwell County Health Department found no significant cancer problem in Normandale, officials said in announcing results of the Department's cancer survey of a 40-acre subdivision... the findings put an end to the five months of investigation by State and County health officials into some residents' fears that they were amidst a cancer cluster.'

Fiskville, Victoria, Australia

The Report of the Independent Fiskville Investigation focuses on materials and practices used in live fire exercises at the Victorian Country Fire Authority [CFA] Fiskville training centre over a period of some three decades from 1971. It seeks retrospectively to assess the likely risks to human health and the environment associated with these materials and practices and to evaluate potential contemporary risks arising from areas of residual contamination. Given its historical focus and recognising the major reductions in risks to health, safety and environment that flowed from the redevelopment of live fire training facilities in 1998 and 1999, the Report’s recommendations deal with legacy issues, such as the possibility that drums remain buried at the site.[98]


Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. "Telling the Truth about Toxics in Tasmania", Tasmanian Times, August 2, 2009.
  2. Waste Management 2020 and Beyond Feb 2011 [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Controlled Waste Facility Copping – Southern Waste Water April 2012 community pamphlet
  4. Mercury newspaper, 21 April 2012
  5. 5.0 5.1 'Timeline for proposed development of a Category C cell at Copping landfil Site [DA 5/1012/76]'[2]
  6. Toxic Tasmania or Clean & Green? TPEHN Pamphlet, February 2011 "Toxic Tasmania or Clean & Green?"
  7. Tasmanian Greens called on to support pollution control reforms [3], TPEHN & Carlton River Catchment and Southern Beaches Conservation Society, Media Release, 14th September, 2012
  8. Dump demonstrates failures again Media Release Environment Tasmania 29 August 2012 [4]
  9. Map of original shoreline, undated but approx 1960.
  10. Hobart Council's 90 year plan to make playgrounds out of rubbish tips The Mercury, 26 May, 1968; page 13
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Lopatniuk, P. 2012 Tomorrow's Children
  12. A Lifelong Quest for Answers
  13. Further cancer investigations rejected
  14. 14.0 14.1 Hudspeth, A., L. Scripps and P. MacFie 1994 Clarence Historic Site Survey Part II - Droughty Point, Tranmere, Howrah
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 15.7 15.8 Alexander, A. 2003 The Eastern Shore: a history of Clarence Artemis Publishing/Clarence City Council
  16. Bellerive Lagoon circa 1909 [5]
  17. Lovibond, J. Queen's Beach - In:Bellerive Heritage Volune III 1995 Bellerive Historical Society
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Vanished "Lagoon" - Bellerive Improvement, The Mercury 10 September 1935, page 11
  19. Bellerive Lagoons [6]
  20. Swamp reclamation - Work at Bellerive The Mercury 14 June 1935, page 7
  21. Bellerive Heritage Volune III 1995 Bellerive Historical Society
  22. Aerial Photographs 1946 Archives of Tasmania Bellerive - 13147 Runs 3 & 4
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 P. Simons 1974, A Study of the Howrah Beach Area & Wentworth Park for the Clarence Council, Tasmania
  24. F. Fraser Darling, BBC Reith Lectures 1968, The Impact of Man on His Environment
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Nye, P.B. Underground Water Resources of the Richmond-Bridgewater-Sandford district Department of Mines, Tasmania 1924
  26. Geological Atlas Hobart 1973 [8312S] 1:50,000 here PDF
  27. Geological Map of Hobart In: Geological Excursions for ANZAAS, 38th Congress - August, 1965
  28. Land Titles Office 23 May 1957
  29. "Town of Howrah", Tasmanian Government Gazette No. 90, February 22, 1961
  30. 30.0 30.1 Purchase of tip site at Howrah, The Mercury 30 June 1961
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 "Howrah confirmed for garbage tip", The Mercury, June 17, 1961, page 7.
  32. Tasmanian Lands Titles - various years
  33. "Higher rate if area of tip moved", The Mercury, June 20, 1961, page 19.
  34. 34.0 34.1 General View supports Tip at Howrah, The Mercury 29 June 1961
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 35.4 35.5 ”Higher rate if area of tip moved” The Mercury 29 June 1961
  36. 36.0 36.1 High-handed bureaucracy claim on tip again. The Mercury 27 June 1961
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Correspondence from Clarence City Council dated 22 November 1983
  38. A. R. Ezzy, The effects of waste disposal on groundwater quality in Tasmania: An overview of NHT funded project NLP13188, Geological Survey Tasmania, December 2002.
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  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 40.4 40.5 40.6 Clarence Council Minutes 1958-1966 Archives of Tasmania
  41. Clarence Municipal Council Council - Howrah Beach and Wentworth Park Project - June 1974
  42. Letter from Council Clerk to the Director of Education, 2 July 1974
  43. Survey-General Map for the Southern Metropolitan Master Planning Authority, July 1967
  44. Aerial Photograph Lands Department Run 10 F384 24 March 1973
  45. Memorandum from Municipal Enginerer to Council Clerk dated 30 April 1974
  46. Wentworth Park Development - Eastside News 8 July, 1976 page 10
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  52. Letter from Clarence City Council dated 21 January 1982
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  54. Public signs placed at Bellerive & Howrah Beaches - 2010
  55. Poppy Lopatniuk, email to Bob Burton, October 2009.
  56. Paula Wreidt, Minister for Tourism, Arts and the Environment, Letter to Poppy Lopatnuik, September 3, 2007.
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  58. "Jackson shoots messenger", Editorial, The Mercury, May 6, 2004, page 16.
  59. "Jackson bows to pressure", The Mercury, undated, page 18.
  60. "Out of sight, out of mind", The Mercury, April 27, 2004.
  61. Ellen Whinnett, "Mystery of a dying family", The Mercury, April 30, 2004.
  62. Michelle Paine, "Old tip question over brother's cancer fare", The Mercury May 3, 2004.
  63. "Minister in cancer row: Menzies Institute refutes Jackson claim about research", The Mercury, April 28, 2004, page 5.
  64. "Information withheld", The Mercury, undated, approx April/May 2004.
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  66. Wentworth Park Public Park & Picnic Area 2009 & 2010 see photos
  67. 67.0 67.1 67.2 67.3 Report on Cancer Rates in Howrah suburb
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  96. Geographical Analysis Cancer Incidence by local government area (LGA) 1996-1999.
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  98. Fiskville: Understanding the Past to Inform the Future Report of the Independent Fiskville Investigation June 2012. A PDF version is available at
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External resources

  • Mineral Resources Tasmania, "Waste Disposal Effects on Groundwater Quality", accessed November 2009. This is a portal page with links to a series of thirteen reports undertaken on the effects of waste disposal on groundwater quality within Tasmania.

External articles

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