Risky business - Damning report reveals Armidale state's contamination hotspot

ALARMING figures have emerged revealing Armidale has an astonishing 34 per cent of the state’s potential “high risk” Crown land contamination sites.

NSW Trade and Investment’s review of the Crown land database last year identified 38 sites of extreme environmental concern across the state. The results of the desktop study show 13 of those 38 are located in Armidale, while Sydney has just five, Tamworth three and Moree one. The 38 high-risk sites referred to in the report include derelict mines, asbestos-contaminated areas, processing plants, gasworks, landfills and farms.

The study, undertaken in May last year, was mentioned in an audit on contaminated sites released by NSW Auditor-General Grant Hehir last week.

The Leader contacted NSW Trade and Investment in an attempt to obtain the full report, including the locations of the high-risk areas.

However, a spokesman from the Crown lands division said it would not release the study until a plan for managing the sites was finalised in December next year.

“The desktop assessment used criteria such as past land use records to determine which sites were potentially contaminated and to rank them accordingly,” the spokesman said.

“The department will have commenced assessment of each site ranked as high risk by September 2014.

“It is expected that a plan for addressing and managing the department’s known and suspected contamination sites that meet reporting requirements will be completed by December 2015.

“It is not appropriate to release the desktop audit at this point until the process is fully complete.”

Armidale-Dumaresq Council interim general manager Glenn Inglis said that as the potentially contaminated sites were on Crown land, responsibility for their management lay with the state government.

However, he said the council would contact NSW Trade and Investment to request more information given Armidale’s surprisingly prominent position on the list.

“Now that the NSW Auditor-General’s report has been received, council has seen a reasonably interesting set of numbers for Armidale,” he said.

“Is that just Armidale city, or does that include the entire local government area? These are questions we have to ask.

“If we had better knowledge of it ... we could determine whether appropriate actions are being taken (to rehabilitate the sites).”

The Auditor-General’s report found the NSW Environment Protection Authority had a backlog of 550 potentially contaminated sites awaiting assessment since 2009-10.

“The status of sites that have been notified but remain unassessed is unclear and the public and local government may have no knowledge of significant contamination, if present, at these sites,” the report noted.

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