Some 500 tests for lead contamination have been undertaken at Tarago over the past month in response to a community backlash.
Transport for NSW commissioned the more widespread soil, dust, paint and water tests after a heated town meeting in March. It has revealed four areas of concern remain.
The authority came under fire after it acknowledged it knew about lead contamination in the rail corridor when work began last August on the Tarago rail loop extension.
It had been revealed in 2015 ground tests but most of the community and the council only became aware in February, 2020, four months after the loop had been completed. At that time, the EPA declared it a 'significantly contaminated site.'
It was thought to be historical, caused by lead ore loading associated with the former Woodlawn Mine.
Now, Transport for NSW says it well understands the community feeling.
On Tuesday, deputy director of the regional and outer metropolitan division, Carol-Anne Nelson and acting executive director, network and assets, Tom Grosskopf, were among those addressing people's questions in an online forum.
The forum was originally proposed to be public but was changed due to COVID-19 restrictions. The council and community members were granted 30-minute one-on-one sessions.
Ms Nelson told The Post that Transport for NSW had learnt its lesson and vowed to be more open and transparent with the community.
"There is a better communication flow now," she said.
"They were upset about the lack of engagement over what happened. A lot of people knew about the mine and were not entirely shocked by the presence of lead but they were upset Transport for NSW hadn't been open and transparent."
It has released a host of documents, including on soil and water testing, on a specially dedicated website.
Ms Nelson said 500 tests undertaken by consultants, Ramboll, in various locations showed generally "low and acceptable" lead limits for the community but there were exceptions.
- Localised spots along the route from the Woodlawn Mine to the rail corridor;
- Around an old workshop on Mulwaree Street;
- South of the station master's cottage within the rail corridor;
- On an overland flow path from the flow path from the rail corridor across Boyd Street.
A report stated that high lead and other metals were observed in surface water discharge from within and outside the rail corridor. However the lead level in Tarago Public School's groundwater was "low and acceptable." The school has also undertaken independent testing.
More than 200 soil samples and 20 water tank samples have also been taken at private properties, with results "being discussed individually with owners."
In addition, 20 people took up the Department's offer of blood tests following last month's community meeting. Already, a family in the station masters cottage has been relocated to Goulburn after lead levels were found to be 10 to 15 times the safe exposure limit. The couple's 12-month-old child was said to be "on the upper threshold of acceptable standards."
Ms Nelson said the Department was fully funding the family's accommodation. She has acknowledged their distress.
"We are working very closely with them and are in regular contact. We will need to work with them over time on how we get them back to their residence," she said.
Blood tests would only be made public if people agreed.
Ms Nelson wouldn't specifically comment on whether the Department was expecting legal action or compensation claims over the the contamination. She told The Post the focus was now on how best to "responsibly manage the community's safety."
Our commitment going forward is to be absolutely transparent with everything we're doing...Carol-Anne Nelson
Tarago Public School students had been issued with bottled water as a precaution, after the contamination was revealed. Transport for NSW said further testing was not required because initial results showed lead was at "low and acceptable levels" at the school. However the Department of Education said the bottled water would continue until further testing confirmed there was no risk.
Meantime, Mr Grosskopf said a plan of management for the site would be lodged with the EPA by May 25.
But measures were already underway, including covering sleepers on the site that had been tested for contamination.
"It is now declared general purpose waste and will be removed to a landfill in coming days," he said in an online video.
"We have also looked at dust suppression across the site and trialled a new polymer that seems to be working well."
The plan calls for permanent management of the stockpiled material, which is currently covered in sand and cement, and measures to control dust and water run-off.
Ms Nelson said more test results would be known in the next month and these would also be made public, along with the management plan.
Asked why the loop extension went ahead despite lead presence being detected in 2015, she said the Department had been "very open" at the last meeting that "we should have done better.
"Our commitment going forward is to be absolutely transparent with everything we're doing and...being very responsive to community requests...We will do better and what's been done in the last four weeks has been a demonstration of that."
As to whether there should be an independent inquiry into the process, including a government grant to complete the extension, Ms Nelson said she believed people at every step had done what they were legally required to do but had not engaged with the community.
Goulburn Mulwaree Coucil also had a briefing from the Department on Tuesday.
Planning director Scott Martin said there was comfort in knowing the EPA was overseeing the contaminated land process.
"All we can do is advocate that Transport for NSW and John Holland Rail (which built the extension) follow through on testing and at the moment it seems like that is happening," he said.
"We'll continue to be briefed by those agencies and advocate for the best outcome for Tarago. It's safe to say that with the testing done since the last meeting, we'll all have a much better understanding of what's there and that it will be better managed than if it hadn't come to light."
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