Ballinas toxic problem
DANGEROUS chemicals are being stored at a substation in Ballina, just metres from homes and sporting fields.
The chemicals, polychlorinated biphynels (PCBs), can be found in decommissioned Country Energy transformers, which are kept on-site at the Temple Street substation for up to 90 days.
But Country Energy has no plans to move the storage operations – instead, it wants to build a permanent storage shed at the Temple Street site.
This has angered residents in nearby Vera Street, who are concerned it will become a ‘toxic waste dump’.
“We just want to know what’s going on,” resident Melanie Shortt said.
She and her husband are worried that the storage of transformers so close to their home will affect the health of their eight-month-old baby.
University of Queensland Associate Professor Barry Noller specialises in chemistry and environmental science. He said PCBs were ‘highly dangerous’.
“They need attention. There are specific rules and guidelines for the management of PCBs which must be followed,” he said.
“But dangerous substances are only a problem if people are exposed directly to them. So if the PCBs are stored correctly in drums which don’t leak, then there shouldn’t be any problems.”
Exposure to PCBs can cause cancers, liver damage, respiratory disorders, thyroid gland disorders, muscle and joint pain and headaches. PCBs were banned from use in the 1970s.
But Country Energy’s regional general manager, Richard Wake, said there was a ‘very low risk’ that nearby residents or the environment would be affected by PCBs in the old transformers. He said building a new storage facility would improve the on-site safety.
“This is not doing anything that we are not already doing – it’s just about doing it better,” he said.
“We’ve always had these old transformers there. It’s just that we now are required to store them in a better way. It’s certainly not a toxic waste facility.”
Mr Wake admitted there had been ‘one or two cases’ of old transformers leaking in the past.
“But we have never had any environmental concerns,” he said.
Ms Shortt said she just wanted Country Energy to be ‘open and honest’.
“We only bought our place about 18 months ago,” she said.
“We have a young baby and we want to know that living here is going to be safe for our kids. We don’t know enough about what is happening over there. It’s a real concern for us.”
Country Energy had applied for the storage facility at the same site through Ballina Shire Council, but that application will be referred to the NSW Department of Planning for determination.
Mr Wake admitted there had been a ‘communication breakdown’ between the company and neighbouring residents and aimed to improve communication.
Country Energy invited residents to tour the current storage facility yesterday, but only one resident attended the consultation.
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT CHEMICALS USED IN TRANSFORMERS?
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