• Serena O'Meley

Lead at Clements Reserve up to 1,400% above EPA health limit

INDEX

  • Overview

  • Asbestos contamination reported - June 2020 - Northern end of Clements Reserve

  • Where did the asbestos contamination come from?

  • Lead contamination - Southern end of Clements Reserve

  • The establishment of the Northcote Gun Club (Reservoir) in 1926

  • How much lead is in the soil at the southern end of Clements Reserve?

  • What other contaminants of concern were found at Clements Reserve?

  • What are the human health risks from lead exposure?

  • Darebin Council's duty to notify the EPA

  • Data gaps and risk management

  • Public report to Darebin Council on 25 October 2021

  • A Failure of Transparency in Darebin Council

  • Postscript

  • References

  • Appendix A - Northcote Gun Club's New Grounds (1926) - article and photo

Overview


I have recently obtained two soil contamination reports about Clements Reserve under Freedom of Information (FOI) while waiting for my appeal to be determined by the Office of the Information Commission (OVIC) for further documents. One report is from an engineering consultancy called Aurecon dated 21 October 2021, which undertook to provide Council advice regarding its contaminated land duties in relation to the EPA. The second report comprises of a detailed site investigation by Prensa dated September 2020, a risk management firm specialising in property, environment and safety.


The key takeaways from the reports are:

  • Non-friable asbestos has been confirmed to have been found at the northern end of the site. Prensa has downplayed the seriousness of this contamination provided certain remedial action is taken. They have also made recommendations consistent with the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 such as a site register for people required to work at the park.

  • The level of lead contamination on the southern end of the site is substantially (up to 1,400%) above safe levels for human health and must be notified to the EPA. The contamination has come from decades of operation of a gun club on the site. Costly remedial action will need to be taken to address the human health and environmental risks.

  • There are data gaps described in the reports which could hinder remediation attempts: 1) there is no information about how deeply the lead is spread on the site (vertical integration); and 2) there is no information about the impact of lead contamination upon ground water and surface water that flows into the Darebin Creek (see Aurecon 2021, Table 3.1, p.3).

I will discuss the key issues in the reports including remediation recommendations and future management of the site, cover some interesting historical background, and describe Darebin Council's reporting obligations. In my opinion, Darebin has not met its transparency obligations under the Local Government Act 2020.


Asbestos contamination reported - June 2020 - Northern end of Clements Reserve


The need for the detailed site investigation (DSI) was triggered by the discovery of asbestos at the northern end of Clements Reserve.


Terry Mason, made several attempts to report this asbestos to Darebin Council using the Snap Send Solve App. There was no adequate response to these reports.

Fig. 1. Photo credit: Terry Mason.


When we realised that a large tree near McMahon Road was marked for removal due to die back I directly contacted the Mayor and senior staff in the Council on 17 June 2020 to warn them about the asbestos and Terry sent photos of the asbestos fragments again (Fig. 1). We were concerned for the health and safety of workers removing the tree as there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos , which can cause several types of cancer if fibres make their way into the lungs.


This time Council immediately swung into action and cordoned off an area adjoining McMahon Road with black and yellow safety tape (Fig. 2). They had environmental remediation firm EnviroPacific remove the visible asbestos containing material. EnviroPacific engaged Prensa to undertake a detailed site investigation (DSI).


Fig. 2. Photo credit: Serena O'Meley

Where did the asbestos contamination come from?


The Prensa (2020, p.12) site investigation found exposed soil around six mounds and at the base of trees:


The exposed soil comprised gravelly sand with minor building debris, including bricks and ceramics."


The report suggests that most of the contamination may have been brought to the site circa the 1960s, based upon their interpretation of some aerial photographs and development in the area at the time. Soil and building materials may have been stockpiled on the site during construction in the area.


Attached to the Aurecon report (2021, p.14), however, there is a map (Fig. 3) which shows historical municipal waste facilities/landfills within a 1 kilometre radius. One of those sites (marked in yellow in the key as 'Area Identified as Former Waste Disposal Site') overlaps exactly where Terry found asbestos within Clements Reserve (boundaries outlined in red). This is suggestive of a more organised landfill.


The Aurecon report (2021, p.12) describes the type of landfill in the northern end of Clements Reserve as "inert waste" but there is no further discussion and there's no date attached to the map.


It's worth noting the large overlap of the three waste sites (marked in yellow) with current residential and creek side areas in Reservoir. It does beg the question of whether there are other major sites of contamination that need to be investigated and remediated throughout Darebin.

Fig. 3. Aurecon report 2020, p.14

According to Prensa (2020, i):


[The asbestos containing material] in the form of fibre cement sheet...was non-friable and was identified in relatively low abundance and good condition. Based on the nature and occurrence of asbestos...it was considered that the potential human health risk could be managed in the current state of the Site, with the exception of exposed soil.


I can't tell if the asbestos identified by Terry was included in this assessment.


While waiting for advice, Council workers covered the exposed areas of ground with topsoil and grass seed in June 2020. This treatment is consistent with Prensa's (2020, p.29) recommendation in September for short-term remediation.


I visited the site on 15 January 2022 and took a photo of one of the relevant areas where asbestos was found (Fig. 4). The place where the large tree stood has been covered in tan bark and re-vegetated, however, grass has failed to thrive on the topsoil so this will affect the efficacy of the cap.

Fig. 4. Photo credit: Serena O'Meley

It's worth noting that on 7 September 2020, the same month that Prensa completed its report, Councillors unanimously resolved to renew their intention to acquire the site (Darebin Council Minutes, 7 September 2020, Item, 7.7, Minute no. 20-109, p.31). Were they given any information about the site contamination at that time or was their resolution made in a vacuum?


Lead contamination - Southern end of Clements Reserve


There are higher than expected concentrations of lead in the southern end of Clements Reserve. According to Prensa (2020, 13) the gun club operated at the site from circa 1926 to the 1950s. It would be worth exploring this further as my own search of Trove found that newspaper reports about the activities of the club ceased around 1933.


Due to the popularity of the sport it is likely that there are similar contamination sites all over Melbourne, including close to the Reservoir Railway station which was also used as a shooting site by the Northcote Gun Club before the site in current day Clements Reserve came into operation (see for example The Argus, Sat 24 May 1913).


Overall, the sport lost popularity from 1959 when the shooting of live birds was banned and clubs shifted to shooting clay targets (Browning 2017).


The establishment of the Northcote Gun Club (Reservoir) in 1926


A report in the Sporting Globe on 21 August 2026 lauds the expansion of the sport across Melbourne, and goes into some detail about the Northcote Gun Club's leadership, their acquisition of a new site 1 km from the Reservoir Train station, and describes the well-appointed sporting pavilion:


The pavilion is an up-to-date brick structure containing refreshment rooms, bar and promenade. A wireless set is to be installed for the convenience of shooters, and provision has been made for a spacious motor park [See Appendix A below for the full article and a photo (Fig. 11) of the pavilion.]


The following advertisement from 1928 (Fig.5) is typical for the regular club competitions. Participants are offered free transport to and from Reservoir train station to participate in sparrow and starling shoots. Both the men's and ladies' competitions had rich prizes.

Fig. 5. Age, Saturday 21 April 1928, page 19

The guns used lead shot which would have scattered small pellets in a wide perimeter from the shooting platform. Prensa (1920, 13) infers that (potential) aviary buildings and the pavilion were demolished sometime between 1956 and 1970 based upon an examination of aerial photographs.


How much lead is in the soil at the southern end of Clements Reserve?


In the course of assessing the requirement for notification to the EPA, Aurecon (2021, pp. 4-5) included site risk information based on the Prensa report which I have summarised as follows:

  • Normally occurring lead concentrations in soil should be around 20 mg/kg in Melbourne.

  • There were concentrations in Clements Reserve found by Prensa that ranged from 610mg/kg to 8,400mg/kg.

  • The maximum lead concentration exceeded the Human Health Investigation Level (HIL) for recreational land use (which is 600 mg/kg) by 1,400%. Notification to the EPA is required once it reaches 250%. The lead contamination also exceeds the relevant Ecological Investigation Levels (EIL).

  • They assessed the site risk profile is as 'high', which may change if the data gaps are filled and/or depending upon how the site is remediated/managed.

Prensa were unable to dig deeper than 0.5 mbgl (meters below ground level) due to intersecting with volcanic rock which hampered their vertical assessment of the lead contamination.


What other contaminants of concern were found at Clements Reserve?


The Aurecon report (2021, 3) notes that in addition to lead and asbestos containing material Prensa identified the following contaminants:

  • Heavy metals

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

  • Total recoverable hydrocarbons (TRH)

  • Explosives

While the Prensa report (2020) covers the levels of contaminants in each of the test pits there is no discussion regarding risks in relation to most of these contaminants. This could be another area that requires further investigation.


What are the human health risks from lead exposure?


The following Fact Sheet 'Contamination at Shooting Ranges' by Dr Corinne Rooney lists the most common health impacts of lead in humans:

  • Damage to the brain and nervous system

  • Behavioural problems and learning disabilities

  • Reproductive problems

  • Memory and concentration problems

  • Muscle and joint pain

I wouldn't like to venture to say just how much of a risk the lead in Clements Reserve is to human health and safety. After all, it would need to be in a bioavailable form to pose such a risk. This is a question which needs to be directed to Darebin Council and/or the EPA.


Darebin Council's duty to notify the EPA


The Aurecon report (2021, p.1) recommends that Council create a Risk Management Workplan to send with the notification to the EPA in order to meet the new contaminated land duties which came into effect on 1 July 2021. The EPA's (2021) contaminated land policy was published on 22 February 2021 which should have given Darebin Council ample time to prepare. The policy can be accessed here: https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/publications/1915 .


It's concerning that Council did not meet this duty to notify the EPA, "as soon as practicable" after becoming aware of notifiable contamination, which it knew about in late 2020 from the Prensa report.


Its notification to the EPA still hadn't been done at the time of receipt of the Aurecon report on 20 October 2021, presumably because the report was commissioned to explain their duties to them. Surely, Darebin Council would have sufficient in-house expertise, combined with the extensive Prensa report, to understand this straightforward duty to notify without having to engage further consultants?


The duty to report is combined with a duty to manage the contamination (Fig. 6). Council has taken several steps towards managing the contamination which are discussed throughout this article but these are yet to be completed.

Fig. 6. Publication 1915, February 2021, EPA Contaminated land policy, p.14

Data gaps and risk management


The Aurecon report was mostly redundant given that it was based upon the Prensa report. It does, however, provide Council with further desk studies of publicly sourced environmental assessments of the site and its surrounds and clearly spells out the three technical gaps in data which I note in the Overview above relating to lack of data regarding the depth of the lead, and the impact of the lead on ground and surface water which potentially flows into Darebin Creek


The full set of recommendations for further soil and water assessments, including the need for a Risk Management Workplan, can be found on p.6 of the Aurecon (2021) report.


The Prensa report (2021, i) recommends:


...that a groundwater assessment be undertaken in the vicinity of the lead hotspot at the Site to evaluate whether the higher concentrations of leachable lead identified have impacted groundwater and Darebin Creek. In addition, surface water sampling within Darebin Creek is also recommended to evaluate the potential interaction of groundwater and surface water.


Prensa (2020, p.29) note that there is only a thin layer of clay on top of relatively unweathered basalt:


Ordinarily, a layer of clay would limit the potential infiltration of contamination to groundwater. At the Site dissolved lead could migrate through subvertical fractures in basalt. ...[based on available data] groundwater at the Site is likely to be shallow (potentially less than 5 mbgl), within a fractured aquifer. Therefore, the elevated lead concentrations reported within the hotspot are considered to have the potential to impact groundwater at the Site.


... Groundwater at the Site is likely to flow east and may discharge into the Darebin Creek. Based on the above it is recommended that a groundwater investigation be undertaken to evaluate whether groundwater has been contaminated from the on-site lead contamination and whether this contamination has potentially impacted Darebin Creek.


The Prensa report (2020) proposes a range of risk assessments and management options for lead on the site including possible encapsulation, treatment to immobilise leachable concentrations of lead, disposal of contaminated soil, or a combination of these on page 29 of their report.


I currently have no information about whether any of these assessments have been undertaken or whether the risk management plans have been developed.


Public Report to Darebin Council on 25 October 2021


The first time Darebin Council made the site contamination public is in an Officer's report on 25 October 2021 (Darebin Council Agenda, Item 8.9, pp.558-562) which followed a confidential briefing to Councillors on 27 September 2021. The Executive summary does not note that it is lead (as opposed to asbestos) contamination that Council moved to remediate in 2021, however, this becomes clear further down in the report.


These temporary remediation efforts included covering lead contamination with a thick layer of tan bark (figFig. 7).


Fig. 7. Photo credit: Serena O'Meley

The following statement in the report is inconsistent with what both Aurecon or Prensa had to say about the likelihood of ground and surface water contamination:


It is unlikely that lead is leaching into the groundwater. However, it may be prudent for Council to install one bore and sample the groundwater to rule out that possibility before finalising a solution. Further advice on this aspect is being considered [emphasis added].


There is no information in the Council report about how this contrary conclusion has been drawn. In terms of further due diligence, Aurecon (2021, 6), recommends, in part:


The installation and sampling (of soil and groundwater) of a minimum of one groundwater monitoring well...The installation of additional groundwater monitoring wells may be warranted in the future to delineate lead contamination in the groundwater, if identified.


Collection of at least three surface water samples from Darebin Creek (up-stream, mid-stream and down-stream) to assess potential lead impacts from surface water run-off from the site.


Production of a Stage 2 DSI report summarising the findings of additional contaminated land investigations...


There are main two options for permanent remediation of the lead contamination set out in Item 8.9, which are subject to EPA approval:

  • Remove and replace the soil at an estimated cost of $1million; or

  • Re-wild the area and limit human and animal contact at an estimated cost of under $200,000 (plus ongoing maintenance costs) as shown in this rather nice concept design (Fig. 8):

Fig. 8. Darebin Council Agenda (25/10/21) Item 8.9, p.560

The Darebin Council resolution that went with the report at Item 8.9 required Council to erect a temporary fence and signage around the site. It also required a letter (Fig. 9) be sent to residents within 300m of the site (Darebin Council Minutes, 25 October 2021, Item 8.9, Minute no. 21-137, pp.41-42). The letter was sent over a month later, on 30 November 2021, and while it describes the temporary remediation efforts it studiously avoids mention of the lead contamination itself.

Fig. 9. Darebin Council letter to residents (30/11/21)

A Failure of Transparency in Darebin Council


In the Victorian Local Government Act 2020 (the Act) there are Overarching governance principles and supporting principles at Section 9 which include a requirement that, "the transparency of Council decisions, actions and information is to be ensured (Section 9(2)(i))." In accordance with Section 57 of the Act, Darebin Council is required to have a Public Transparency policy in place by 1 September 2020. That policy must incorporate the principles in Section 58 of the Act which are as follows (Fig. 10):


Fig. 10. Section 58 Victorian Local Government Act 2020

Darebin's transparency policy is dated July 2020 and can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/yckk5bdn .


I believe that Darebin Council has abjectly failed to meet its transparency obligations under the Act by hiding information behind the confidentiality provisions of its transparency policy at Section 5.5.1 and failing to apply a public interest test in accordance with the same policy at Section 5.5.2. Darebin Council did not disclose to the public (or the EPA) at the earliest opportunity information about the site contamination at Clements Reserve when it was in receipt of an excellent assessment prepared by Prensa in September 2020. Even when the contamination was in the public domain, from the 25 October 2021 Council meeting, the letter to residents on 30 November 2021 did not inform them about the nature of the contamination.


Darebin Council not only failed to answer my repeated public questions about why there was a delay in purchasing the site from the Victorian Government, but it also referred my FOI request of 6 September 2021 concerning Clements Reserve to lawyers who systematically rejected all the substantive elements of the request.


It took an unanimous resolution of Darebin Councillors to require the release of the detailed site investigation by Prensa (Darebin Council Minutes, 23 December 2021, Item 5.3, Minute no. 21-171, p.6. However, I note that as of 17 January 2022 the report has still not been posted with those minutes. The only reason I have it is because I submitted a further FOI on 6 January 2022.


It's time that the culture of secrecy within Darebin Council, which has been carried across multiple administrations, is addressed.


Postscript


It will be imperative to keep following up to ensure that the consultants' recommendations for further testing, site management and remediation are fully implemented. It's also clear that the level of the site contamination and the need for costly remediation works should have a significant impact on negotiations for the purchase (or transfer) of the site. Council is liable for the contamination on the site whether they own it or not, so there really should be no further delay in acquiring it.


This latest saga around Clements Reserve has highlighted the lack of transparency regarding the site contamination, which appears to be the reason for the slow progress of negotiations with the State Government for acquisition of the site. This lack of transparency has led to inflammatory posts, by politically motivated people, about the alleged risks posed by contamination on the site. Darebin Council has an obligation to reassure the community that their health, safety and well-being, and the health of the environment is not at risk.


To contact the author direct message at https://www.facebook.com/Darebin2020


References


Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (2022). Asbestos Health Risks. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from

https://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/asbestos-health-risks-and-exposure/asbestos-health-risks


Aurecon (2021). Desktop contaminated land assessment for Clements Reserve, Clements Grove, Reservoir, VIC 3073. (Memorandum dated 20 October 2021).


Browning, R. (3 August 2017) 'Remembering the Old Melbourne Gun Club' Field & Game. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from

https://www.pressreader.com/australia/field-and-game/20170803/281771334255466


Darebin Council Minutes, 7 September 2020, Item 7.7, Minute no. 20-109, p.31.


Darebin Council Agenda, 25 October 2021, Item 8.9, pp.558-562.


Darebin Council Minutes, 25 October 2021, Item 8.9, Minute no. 21-137, pp.41-42.


Darebin Council Minutes, 23 December 2021, Item 5.3, Minute no. 21-171, p.6.


* Darebin Council minutes can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/rt4bbbt9


EPA (2021). EPA Contaminated Land Policy. Publication no. 1975. 22 February 2021. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from

https://www.epa.vic.gov.au/about-epa/publications/1915


Darebin Council (2020). Darebin Council Public Transparency Policy. July 2020. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://tinyurl.com/yckk5bdn


THE GUN. (1913, May 24). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 17. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10785833


Northcote Gun Club’s New Grounds (1926, August 21). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 - 1954), p. 5. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184840349


NORTHCOTE GUN CLUB. (1928, April 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 18. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3926389


Prensa (2020) Detailed site investigation - Clements Reserve, Clements Grove Reservoir, Victoria. EnviroPacific Services. September 2020. Client no E0024. Job No: 35337.


Victorian Local Government Act 2020 (the Act)


Appendix A


Northcote Gun Club's New Grounds (1926)- article and photo

Sporting Globe (Melbourne) Saturday 21 August 1926, page 5


Proof of the increase in popularity of trap-shooting have never been so numerous as has been the case this year. The most convincing evidence of this progress was the erection of elaborate premise by the Melbourne Gun Club at Tottenham. The progress is not confined to the parent body, however, but is manifesting itself in other clubs in town and parts.


In the metropolis most headway has been made by the Northcote club, which recently acquired new grounds about a mile from Reservoir railway station. An up-to-date pavilion has been erected. The official opening of the enclosure will take place next Saturday, when a £50 starling handicap will be provided for shooters. With O.R. ("Ossie") Porter as president, the Northcote club has had the right man to guide it along in the last four years.


What "Ossie" does is done thoroughly, and the new pavilion is another example of his thoroughness on a job. The pavilion is an up-to-date brick structure containing refreshment rooms, bar and promenade. A wireless set is to be. installed for the convenience, of shooters, and provision has been made for a spacious motor park. A big crowd of sportsmen is expected for the meeting next Saturday.


The ground can be reached by turning of the road running east from Reservoir station at Fordham road. The red brick pavilion is just off Fordham road, and can be seen on the right.. Shooters will be provided with an extra attraction for the opening meeting in the form of a five-guinea trophy, given by the president, for the man who stops most birds with the first barrel during the day's shoot. On September 4 a £50 ladies' trophy event will be shot for.


Since its inception about 1908-9, the Northcote club has been second in importance to the Melbourne club itself. It is regarded as the small bird club of the metropolis. More starlings and sparrows are shot there than at any other grounds. Pigeons are also included in the events at Northcote, but starlings are the main fare. The new premises and ground cost over £1000. Aviaries have been erected by the club, and plenty of birds are assured for future meetings


The club was founded by A. ("Gus") Smith, who, though now in the seventies, is still a keen shot. The first ground secured was close to Reservoir station, and some success attended the first meetings. "Gus" Smith, the first secretary, held office for a short period. Associated with him in the early days of the club's existence were H. Howe and E. A. Bransgrove. The early successes were only temporary, and the club contracted debts which threatened to cause a winding up.


But "Gus" Smith came to the rescue and bought the property and incidentals and carried on himself. He succeeded in his plan of getting the club on its feet again. Gradually paying off the debts by sales of the purchased stock, he established the club again as a going concern. Since then it has never looked back.


Eric Aitken and A. E. Smith were secretaries following "Gus" Smith's term of office. Mr E. H. Beer holds the secretarial position at present. Progress in the last four years has been marked. The presidency of "Ossie" Porter has been the keynote. As a real Australian type of sportsman, who looks and always plays the part, "Ossie" can hardly be challenged. Trap and field shooting is his only sporting "passion," but he is a sportsman first and last in everything. In the gun world, besides being president of the Northcote club, he is a member of the committee of the Melbourne Gun club, vice-president of the Willlamstown club and a representative of Brown Hill on the Gun Club's Association of Victoria.

Fig. 11.













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