Oppose development on old NuFarm dioxin manufacturing site in Fawkner

There are plans to build warehouses on the old Nufarm Chemicals site in McBryde St Fawkner. This site was highly contaminated with dioxins when it was operational.

A campaign by local residents who were effected by the toxic fumes, particularly Elsie Snowden from the Fawkner Progress Association succeeded in closing the plant down.

Local residents are opposed to any development occurring on the site because even cement footings for warehouses will pierce the clay cap and could cause the toxic fumes to be released again. Local residents are forming an action group to oppose the proposal and to make sure that the current generation knows how toxic this site is.

The original #EPA audit of the site only audited the two central sites of the old factory and not the surrounding sites which are likely to also be contaminated.

Residents meetings:
When: at 2 PM – 4 PM on Saturday 22 April
Where: Fawkner Community House, 95 Major Rd
,

The next meeting of the action group to stop development on the toxic site at 102 McBryde st will be on:
Wednesday 3 May, 7pm @ the 95 Major Road site of Fawkner Community House.

Community meeting – Thursday 11 May, 7pm – 10pm @ Fawkner Senior Citizens Centre
Sue Bolton has initiated a public meeting in her role as a councillor. The meeting is on Thursday 11 May, 7pm at the Fawkner Senior Citizens Centre.
Register at Facebook event

Speakers at the public meeting are: Harry van Moorst (Western Region Environment Centre & long-term campaigner on toxic chemical issues); Percy Pillai (Health & Safety officer for Australian Workers Union & rep for retired workers with serious health effects from spraying the chemicals produced on the Nufarm site in Fawkner); Brian Snowden, local resident; Sue Bolton, plus others (seeking an environmental scientist)

There are more background details both from Cr Bolton and Council officers in the report and motion that was put forward by Cr Sue Bolton at Moreland Council meeting 12 April 2017. I have excerpted the 3 page item from the publicly available Council agenda : NOM19/17 TOXIC SITE IN FAWKNER (D17/109333)

Coverage from Sunday Sun June 3, 1990

1990 map of toxic zone area to be fenced off in Fawkner

Sunday Sun June 3 1990 Page 12: The suburb that fights to breathe (PDF)
Sunday Sun June 3 1990 Page 13: Families blown an ill wind (PDF) – This article outlines the substantial anecdotal evidence for a cancer cluster and other respiratory problems in the area near the NUFarm site.

Background

The following details are excerpted from a Greenpeace 1991 report on Nufarm operations at Fawkner and Laverton, published at the BadDevelopers website.

NUFARM OPERATIONS IN FAWKNER

During Nufarm’s time of operation at Fawkner, the council received what was later described by the Chief Health Officer as a “constant stream of complaints” by residents of foul odours and incessant noise at night preventing sleep. The EPA also received many complaints.

1965: Mr John Minette, of McBryde St., too up a petition amongst his neighbours to protest about the dreadful stench they had to endure coming from Nufarm and the death of flowers and shrubs in the street. (Herald 8/12/67)

Dec. 1967: Twenty families left their homes at four in the morning when fumes became “too much” for them. During the same incident, the milkman’s horse bolted from the smell. The cause, according to “The Herald”, was an overheated “furnace containing a weed-killer mixture”. (Herald 8/12/67)

Feb. 1969: Nufarm was convicted of an offence against Section 40 of the Health Act, the “nuisance section”. (Letter 27/7/73)

May 71: Nufarm was convicted on 6 counts of discharging fumes, vapours, gases and waste liquid. During the same court case, the firm’s Managing Director was found guilty of three charges of impeding, opposing and obstructing the Broadmeadows Health Officer in his duty, and the Technical Manager was convicted of a similar charge. (Summary of Prosecutions, Broadmeadows City Council)

Feb. 72: The Broadmeadows Council brought an appeal to the Supreme Court on charges dismissed at the previous court case and won. Nufarm was convicted of using McBryde St. “for the purpose of an offensive industry”. The local residents, some of whom had resorted to protest meetings and midnight demonstrations outside the factory, saw an end to an eight year battle with the firm in sight. Nufarm’s lawyer made a promise that the factory would move as soon as possible. Almost two years later, production continued virtually 24 hours a day. (Supreme Court records. “Battling Sylvia wins the day” Article not identified.)

July 73: Solicitors acting for the City of Broadmeadows, wrote to the EPA to determine if Nufarm was operating with a licence. If so, they assumed that given the evidence of residents on their current activities, they must be breaching the terms of that licence. (Letter, 27/7/73)

Aug 73: The EPA replied that the company was “exempt from licencing by virtue of the number of employees and the date when the factory was first established.” (EPA complaint form no. 996)

Aug 73: The Town Clerk asked the EPA for help again. (Letter, 21/8/73)

Aug 73: The Hon. J.M. Tripovich, MLC, complained to the EPA that Nufarm was not complying with government orders. (Letter, 23/8/73)

Sep 73: The Secretary to the Premier’s Dept. wrote to the EPA and the Director of Conservation requesting urgent responses to the complaints by a McBryde St. resident. She had pointed out that despite visits by the EPA, nothing had been done. Further, she claimed that the “man who comes seems to treat us as though we don’t know what we’re talking about.” (Letters, 10/9/73, 6/9/73 and resident’s letter of complaint)

Sep 73: J.M. Tripovich lodged a complaint with the EPA on behalf of the residents of Broadmeadows. The description of the complaint reads as “Offences to residents of Broadmeadows from factory manufacturing noxious products – particularly at night.” (EPA Complaint form, complaint No. 1233)

Nov 73: The Town Clerk wrote to the EPA again, pointing out that complaints were continuing about the “obnoxious odours.” (Letter 13/11/73)

Nov 73: The Town Clerk lodged a complaint with the EPA, on behalf of residents who were still complaining about Nufarm to the council. (EPA Complaint No 1867)

Nov 73: Mr Tripovich wrote to the EPA again. He also lodged another complaint on behalf of the residents. (Letter, 26/11/73, EPA Complaint No. 1935)

Nov 73: For years, residents had complained that they could not keep plants alive in their gardens. Those who had resorted to plastic flowers found that they quickly lost their colour. A complaint of further plant damage was verified by an EPA inspector. A Nufarm employee surmised that the likely cause was the production of 2,4,5-T (EPA Inspection Report, 29/11/73, Complaint No. 1839)

Apr 74: The same resident who had resorted to the Premier’s Dept., lodged a complaint with the EPA. She had a letter from the secretary of the department, promising the plant’s closure by the 31st of March. The EPA officer who visited Nufarm in response, concluded that the company “at the most could only stop at the Fawkner premises for a few months. Because of this action by the EPA is not necessary.” Inspection Report, Complaint No.3357)

The locals’ and Shire’s allegations of pollution to the environment were finally vindicated by the 1990 sample studies of soils which established the Fawkner plant as possibly one of the worst dioxin contaminated sites in the world (with levels of 2,3,7,8-TCDD found at 250ppb). To establish the full health consequences to residents would require a comprehensive study of all those who had lived in the area since 1963. The prohibitive nature of such a study means the government will probably never be done. (Health Dept. spokesperson, quoted in The Sun, 13/6/90)

FAWKNER

Production began at Nufarm’s Fawkner site in the late 1950’s. (Fawkner Site Assessment, 8/11/90). They made 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T and DDT and a variety of other products. (Fawkner Site Assessment, 8/11/90). During Nufarm’s time of operation at Fawkner, the residents’ problems continued unabated for at least 8 years. (See Nufarm’s Operations in Fawkner). From the time that the EPA became involved, until the plant’s relocation to Laverton, the EPA never prosecuted.

Further, their responses to the overwhelming number of complaints by residents, local council and Members of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council often tended towards a defence of Nufarm. One such example concerns the Secretary of the EPA’s reply to the Minister for Conservation regarding the emission of odours. The secretary refers to an inspection – the only one made at night when most of the odour complaints occurred – and says that “the slight odours that were detected were confined within the boundaries of the factory.” Whereas the actual report concludes that “if operations were not strictly controlled and unfavourable weather conditions prevailed, the odour could be a nuisance.” (EPA Inspection report, 23/8/73; EPA Letter, 9/11/73)

In the final stages of the plant’s operation, its imminent relocation to Laverton was used as an excuse to inaction. (EPA Inspection report, Complaint No. 3357) This meant only the relocation of the same problems to another community and the abuse of new channels for the disposal of toxic waste.

In early 1990, the EPA tested the Fawkner site for chemical contamination and found nothing, although they claim that further testing was intended. (The Age 29/5/90) Following this, the local council began the process of rezoning the land as residential. (Notice Papers; City of Broadmeadows, Council Meeting 7/5/90)

The true legacy of Nufarm’s pollution was discovered in May 1990. It was found that the chlorophenol levels were up to a quarter of a million times the EPA interim notification criteria for contaminated soils. Dioxins were present at up to 255 times the US level requiring action for decontamination. (Fawkner Site Assessment, 8/11/90)

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