Fancy a dip? Think twice. Brian Adams and best friend Misty cool off in the Orara River yesterday, just metres from a declared
Fancy a dip? Think twice. Brian Adams and best friend Misty cool off in the Orara River yesterday, just metres from a declared

Family crippled by contamination

By LEE McDOUGALL

EVERY parent works hard at building a safe home and environment for their children, and Peter and Belinda Attwill are no exception.

So imagine, if you can, the daily pain and frustration the Attwill's feel knowing that their home has the potential to make their three children very, very sick and that all their attempts to 'do something' appear fruitless.

The Attwill's tale is one of poisonous contamination of their land, and their belief that the Department of Environment and Conservation (the former Environment Protection Authority) is moving far too slowly to ensure remediation of the site.

The Attwills live in Martin Street, Coramba, with the Orara River forming the bottom boundary of their property.

In January, 2002, Peter discovered an overwhelming chemical odour at the base of their property, leading into the Orara River.

Concerned for his family's health, and the health and safety of the broader community, as the site flowed into the town's water supply, Peter immediately contacted Coffs Harbour City Council and the DEC.

Believing as he did that petrol had been dumped into the river, he was shocked when informed by the DEC that the source was the Coramba Service Station about 200 metres away.

"There was a pool of fuel there and I thought someone must have dumped it into the river," Peter said.

What was to ensue over the next four years would test even the patience of Job.

The DEC began their investigations, and in August, 2003, declared the Attwill's property a contaminated site in need of remediation.

The service station was identified as the source of the contamination, and during 2002 the station's underground fuel tanks were dug up and a hole found in the bottom of one of the tanks.

However it wasn't until April, 2004, more than two years after the initial discovery, that the DEC's first investigation report was received.

The report determined the extent of the contamination and included a remedial action plan (RAP) to prevent contamination further entering the river.

"After the RAP was done, the DEC came to me and said the service station owner couldn't pay for the clean up, so I could pay for it, but if I couldn't pay for it then the DEC would have to," Mr Attwill said.

"The real kick in the teeth is that our property is classed as a contaminated site with a risk of harm so we can't sell it or refinance against it, but the service station has no restrictions placed on the property and he can sell tomorrow and move on if he wants," Peter said.

"The stress on our family is enormous. We have worked for more than 20 years for this property and we are all sick of the whole mess."

A spokesperson for the DEC said the process for remediation took time and because the clean-up would use taxpayer funds, the process had to be transparent.

"Because the Attwills are not responsible for the contamination in any way, funds to clean up their land have been sought from the Environmental Trust's Innocent Owners Scheme," the spokesperson said.

"This is a tax payer funded grant scheme and the process of applying for and obtaining a grant therefore needs to be completely transparent and rigorous."

The Trust will meet later this month and consider an application from the Attwills for funds to cover the costs of additional investigations.



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