Yarra Radioactive risk STILL not assessed!

Since July, Blue Wedges has called for Yarra sediments to be tested for radionuclides. Why? Because from the 1940s to the 1960s CSIRO pioneered the processing of Uranium in Lorimer St. Fishermen's Bend....and the nearby Yarra sediments are currently being dredged and dumped in the Bay. 


It has been reported recently that Blue Wedges called for signs to be erected warning the public of potential risks to swimming. We didn’t, but we are concerned to protect the public perception of a healthy bay to protect related business interests.

Actually, signs would be a good idea because the Human Health Risk Assessment in the Channel Deepening Supplementary Environmental Effects Statement (SEES) was modelled from data gathered during a small dredging exercise which did not even enter the Yarra River – where the most toxic sediments exist. “Chemicals of concern” that we know of include lead, mercury, cyanide, cadmium, Zinc, DDT. DDE, Dioxins and PCB’s etc.


But for some reason a 25 year history of uranium processing near the Yarra was not identified in the historical survey of industries likely to have contributed to contamination of the Yarra River, which the PoMC undertook to devise its list of chemicals of concern.


The CSIRO site and its history was never included in the survey, for some strange reason, so radionuclides were not identified.  


The community rightly expects government and its authorities to protect our health and safety. Once provided with accurate information we can then make informed choices. We now know that radioactive material may have entered the Yarra from decades of uranium processing and subsequent inaction on a cleanup until 1990 - some 45 years after uranium processing started on the site.

Testing the Yarra sediments for radionuclides or providing the reports which show it has been done, would resolve the matter. 

Until results are provided which show that there is no residual risk posed by radionuclides in Yarra sediments, then perhaps signs advising the public of potential risks would be a good idea.   



History of site


In 1989, 506 Lorimer St. Fishermen's Bend was found to be heavily contaminated with radioactive waste and in 1990 the site was de-contaminated under the guidance of the Australian Radiation Laboratories. Their 1990 report details that various open areas, including a car park had been heavily contaminated as a result of the decades of uranium processing, and two more decades of inaction.


Although around ten thousand 44 gallon drums of contaminated material were taken from the site, some contaminated areas remained inaccessible, including waste in a storm water drain. Sunday Age October 19 reports on the issue from the perspective of St. Kilda beach goers.  See article below. Note that it was CSIRO who processed uranium at Lorimer St., not the ARL as reported by The Sunday Age.   

Listen to Radio 3CR’s Radioactive Show recent interview with former CSIRIO employee via 3CR podcast at - 

File Download (27:14 min / 5 MB)

Age Article

John Elder and Mark Russell investigate.

The Age, October 19, 2008

BEFORE heading to St Kilda Beach with her 12-year-old son Fergus yesterday, Susanne Wells — as per a long-standing habit — logged on to the EPA website to check the water quality.

"I always check before I let him go swimming," she said.

The Environment Protection Authority usually confines its beach water analysis to the summer — but this year it has been testing the water at bayside beaches every week since dredging began in May, posting results for algae, bacteria, heavy metals and organic chemicals.

"I know if it's been raining the bacteria (enterococci) is a problem," she said.

Should the EPA be testing for radioactive contamination? This week, the anti-dredging group Blue Wedges demanded that the State Government erect signs at bayside beaches warning citizens it is not safe to go in the water because of potential radiation poisoning from stirred-up nuclear mud.

Ms Wells wasn't aware of the threat. "I should keep an eye on the Blue Wedges website," she said.

Nor was she aware that Fishermans Bend was once the site of uranium processing — from the 1940s to the mid-'60s — by the Australian Radiation Laboratory. In 1989, tonnes of soil on the site — including a stormwater drain — were found to be contaminated with radioactive material.

Until this moment, Ms Wells had wondered if the biggest problem caused by the dredging was an abundance of seaweed coming to shore, and an unpleasant smell that has taken purchase at the South Melbourne end of the beach road.

"Isn't the EPA an independent body? Wouldn't they be testing for radioactive material if there was a risk?" she asks.

Earlier in the week, the chairman of the EPA, Mick Bourke, talked of a "continual flow of information" that has gone out to assure the public that Port Phillip Bay's water is "good to excellent" — save for a couple of enterococci breakouts following rain, a larger stirred-up plume from dredging than planned for, and a couple of oil spills that occurred in the dredging process.

Blue Wedges first raised the nuclear issue in July. Mr Bourke at that time said existing reports based on a small sampled analysis had found no nuclear contamination in the bay. The story never took off. But last month, Crikey.com ran a detailed story, citing government documents about the clean-up at Fishermans Bend in 1990, with statements from Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett saying there was no problem and no further testing was required.

This week, Blue Wedges tried again, urging John Brumby to put up warning signs. It got a bit of coverage, but has not moved our beach goers to stage a mass rally, demanding the water be tested. On the one hand, Stephen McConchie — father to young Fergus — was outraged.

He had just been swimming off the rocks, at the end of St Kilda Pier. "It's disgusting," he said.

On the other hand, Mr McConchie wasn't thinking twice about going back in the water. He loves a dip. "It's probably too diluted to touch me," he said of the uncounted radionuclides lurking in the sea.

Halfway along the pier, Chris Antonopoulos, 17, was climbing out of the water. He'd just jumped off the pier for the first time and was beaming.

He had heard about the radiation on the TV but he wasn't thinking about it.

"I live in the northern suburbs," he said, and perhaps here the inner-city folk need to be reminded that for the outer-suburb dwellers, the beach is the kind of place celebrated when visited. "I love Melbourne. I'm a patriot of the city," he said.

He was still beaming when he said how bad the water tasted. "Like it was soiled," he said.

Posted three weeks ago on the Office of the Environmental Monitor's website were a number of stories about the safe water quality at various Port Phillip Bay beaches.

It is normally the job of the EPA to make these assessments public — the Environment Monitor's role is to ensure that controversial dredging of the bay meets environmental guidelines.

The two bodies are meant to be independent of each other but in fact are run by the same man, Mick Bourke. Asked about claims of conflict of interest in the monitoring process, Mr Bourke told The Sunday Age: "We are animals of the government. But we have an independent status … and we have clear terms of reference that we are given … We have very little power."




Are our city beaches radioactive?

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