Doctors warn us again about toxic dump

Doctors warn us again about toxic threats from channel depeening

The Herald Sun March 17, 2008 by Dr. Vicki Kotsirilos

IT is clearer than the murk at the bottom of the Yarra that many Melburnians are worried about the potential effects of the dredging of Port Phillip Bay.

Doctors are among them. Many believe this is an important public health issue.

We have explored the scientific evidence and the dredging literature, and spoken extensively with toxicologists. We are not convinced that dredging the Yarra River bed and storing it out in the middle of Port Phillip Bay is safe or best practice.

We have such a clean bay that enjoys a healthy marine life.

Many people use the beach for recreation: swimming, fishing, windsurfing, etc.

A healthy bay provides benefits that all combine to make Melbourne a wonderful place to live and raise families. Many recreational anglers are proud to be able to catch fresh fish for their families.

According to the project's Environment Effects Statement, the Yarra River bed is highly contaminated with dangerous chemicals and heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic.

Some of the dangerous chemicals include: cyanide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides and dioxins.

It is a legacy of contamination from industry over many decades.

Dredging can create a plume of fine silts and contaminants, which are released into the water column once the seabed is disturbed.

In the highly contaminated Yarra bed there is no question that dredging will stir up these dangerous chemicals and disperse them into the bay, to the local beaches, and potentially contaminate our fish.

If these contaminants enter the food chain, they can harm human health.

This occurred in Sydney.

Contamination of Sydney Harbour seafood followed dredging and plume formation from Homebush Bay in 1996-2000, as the Olympic site was being prepared.

Extremely high levels of heavy metals and chemicals (similar to those in Yarra sediment) were identified following dredging at Homebush.

Commercial fishing was banned in Sydney Harbour in January 2006 after tests revealed high levels of dioxin in marine life.

The chemicals and heavy metals such as lead and mercury can build up in the body and can cause problems to the immune and nervous system, and learning difficulties in children.

This is why the Food Standards Australia New Zealand already recommends that we restrict some fish such as flake (shark) consumed by pregnant women and children, as they are high in mercury.

If these chemicals or heavy metals leak into the bay, either from dredging or from storage "bunds" in the middle of the bay, we may not be able to eat the bay fish. It may even be dangerous for us to swim at some beaches.

We have a responsibility to care for our bay, to keep it safe and clean for future generations to enjoy.

We should not turn it into a toxic waste dump.

Concerned environmental doctors are calling on the Brumby Government not to disturb those toxins in the Yarra River bed.

Dr Vicki Kotsirilos is a GP and founding president of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association



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