Important Captains Flat community notice

On behalf of the NSW Government, the NSW EPA will be in Captains Flat during February 2021 carrying out precautionary testing in public and community spaces to check for lead beyond the former Lake George Mine.

Testing has already been carried out on parts of the rail corridor and elevated levels of lead were found.

In addition to the questions and answers below, drop-in community information sessions were  held at the Captains Flat Community Hall in February with representatives from the NSW EPA, NSW Health, Transport for NSW, Department of Regional NSW, Crown Lands, Local Land Services and the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council  on-site to answer  questions.

The Legacy Mines Program (LMP) is a NSW Government initiative that assists landholders by delivering and managing works to reduce risks arising from historic and abandoned mines. It focuses on public safety and improving the environment. The LMP is administered by Mining, Exploration and Geoscience and is part of the Department of Regional NSW.

Questions and answers

Q. Where did the lead come from?

A. The Lake George Mine produced lead, zinc, copper, pyrite, silver and gold. When mining operations commenced in the area over 120 years ago, standards for environmental protection like dust management were very different. Highly mineralised soil and dust would have been spread around the mine site during its operation, and at the loading site in the rail corridor. Waste was also stockpiled on the mine site and it is not known how far soil and dust from the mine site and rail corridor may have spread. 

Q. What has the NSW Government done to manage the former mine site?

A. Since the mine’s closure in 1962, the NSW Government has undertaken significant work to remediate the site, including erosion control, stabilising and capping tailings, drainage improvements, removal of contaminated material and other safety works. Planned works will involve capping bare areas on the mine site and pursuing options to treat water coming from the mine.

Q. What levels of lead were detected in the rail corridor?

A. Sampling of soil showed lead levels varied considerably at different locations in the rail corridor. Some locations did not show any signs of lead, while others had levels at over 60,000 parts per million (ppm). The highest levels surrounded the site where the ore was formerly loaded onto rail cars.

Q. What will happen to the rail corridor now that elevated levels have been found within it?

A. The EPA is proposing to declare the site as significantly contaminated. If this happens, the EPA will ask Transport for NSW to develop a Voluntary Management Proposal to manage the site in the longer term. A Voluntary Management Proposal would need to include further investigations and remediation required for the site, along with milestone dates for this work to be completed.

Transport for NSW will carry out further testing of the site from 8 February 2020, which will help inform a potential Voluntary Management Proposal.

Q. What will be done now to ensure the rail corridor is safe?

A. Transport for NSW will fence off parts of the corridor that tested as having high levels of lead, including where the ore was formerly loaded onto the rail cars. Signage will also be installed to warn pedestrians that high levels of lead were detected in the area.

Q. Are more tests being carried out in Captains Flat?

A. Yes. On 2 February 2021, the NSW EPA started testing soil from publicly owned land in Captains Flat, including the school, community hall and parks. The NSW EPA is also available to test privately owned properties.

Q. Why are more tests being done?

A. While elevated levels of lead in and around the site of a former lead-producing mine are not unexpected, the NSW Government wants to investigate levels of lead beyond the former mine site and rail corridor.

If the results show elevated levels, the NSW Government will work with the community to ensure they know what actions they can take to live safely with lead.

Q.  Why is the testing being done now?

A. Testing carried out by Transport for NSW identified elevated levels of lead in parts of the Captains Flat rail corridor beside the former Lake George Mine. This is likely the result of material extracted from the mine being loaded into rail tracks for transportation. Following the testing of the rail corridor and to keep the community in Captains Flat safe, the NSW Government is carrying out similar testing of public land and private properties to investigate levels of lead. 

Q. What are the results of the EPA testing?

A.The EPA carried out 60 tests across two days in Captains Flat (2-3 February).  Tests carried out in the northern part of the village generally returned low readings, except for the park on the corner of Foxlow and Spring streets. In the southern part of the village closer to the former mine, readings were elevated for lead at some locations, including on the roadside on Foxlow Street between the Captains Flat Hotel and the Captains Flat Fire Station, and at the preschool.

Q. What action has been taken to keep the children who attend the preschool safe?

A. The preschool’s management committee has decided to close while they carry out precautionary measures to remove any potential risk to the children and their carers. This includes vacuuming with a HEPA filtered vacuum, and wet mopping and wiping all internal surfaces. The NSW Government is working closely with the preschool and have committed to cap the play area with topsoil and turf where the elevated lead levels were detected.

Q. What action will be taken at the public sites where elevated lead has been detected?

A. Further analysis of the tests taken on public land will be carried out and the results shared with the landowner (i.e. council or Crown Lands) to consider appropriate action.

Q. Can I get my property tested for lead?

A. Yes. Landholders can contact the NSW EPA for free soil testing. The EPA are also happy to collect a rainwater tank sample if the tank is accessible. To enquire or arrange a test please contact the EPA Environment Line on 131 555.

Q. How long do the tests take? When will the results be available?

A.  Using specialist equipment, the NSW EPA will screen soil to get an early indication of lead levels at the time of testing. If elevated levels are indicated, soil will be sent to a lab for further testing to confirm the level of lead. Landholders that consent to soil testing on their land will be provided with a report within six weeks from  testing.

Q. Will the results be made public?

A. All results from the rail corridor and public lands testing will be shared. Results from private properties will be shared with the landowner, and with the local council and NSW Government agencies involved in managing lead in Captains Flat with the consent of the landowner.

Q. If an elevated level of lead is found on my property, what happens next?

A. If elevated lead levels are discovered on your property, the NSW EPA will help you understand the results and practical things you can do around your home or business to minimise your exposure to lead, such as washing your hands regularly or covering patches of bare soil with grass or mulch to prevent dust.

Q. How likely is it that I or someone in my family has been exposed to lead? How can I be tested?

A. The likelihood that a person has been exposed is dependent on several factors including the level of lead in the immediate environment and activities that could increase exposure, the length of exposure and the person’s age and general health. If you are concerned about possible exposure to high levels of lead, please see your local GP to request a blood test. You can request this test to be bulk billed.

Q. What level of lead is safe? 

A. A Health Investigation Level (HIL A) of 300 parts per million (ppm) of lead in residential* soil has been set as a level for further investigation by Schedule B1 of the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999. Where a site exceeds 300 ppm of lead, the NSW Lead Management Action Plan (NSW Interdepartmental Lead Taskforce, Environment Protection Authority, 1994) sets the following levels for management which can be used as guidelines for site specific residential properties:

  • < 300 parts ppm - no action
  • 300-1,500 ppm - grass cover or other appropriate barrier
  • 1,500-5,000 ppm - top dress with 50mm clean soil and grass cover
  • 5,000 ppm - soil replacement (top 200mm)

*HIL A – Residential with garden/accessible soil (home grown produce <10% fruit and vegetable intake (no poultry), also includes childcare centres, preschools and primary schools.

The Health Investigation Level for parks, recreational open space and playing fields is 600 ppm of lead.

Q. Can people live safely with lead in their community?

A. Yes. Broken Hill in the far west of NSW is one example of a mining community successfully living with lead. There are practical ways to manage potential exposure to lead in and around the home, such as washing your hands regularly, using raised garden beds and covering exposed dirt with turf or mulch to prevent dust being carried by the wind.

Q. Where can I get more information around the risks associated with lead exposure and how I can manage it?

A. See advice on how to avoid lead exposure. Information about potential health issues associated with lead exposure is available on the NSW Health website. 

Q. What is the raw water source for the Captains Flat water supply system?

A. The town’s water supply system sources raw water directly from Captains Flat Dam, an 820 ML on-stream dam on the Molonglo River. This dam is a remnant of the old mining scheme from the early 1900s. Tailing dams next to the on-stream dam, failed during the 1940s releasing highly contaminated water and sediments into the dam. Diversion pipes are now in place to minimise direct water run-off from the former mining areas into the raw water storage dam.

Q. How is the raw water treated?

A. The raw water is treated at an ultra-filtration membrane treatment plant, installed in 2002. Following treatment, which includes fluoridation and disinfection at the plant, water is transferred to two reservoirs before being distributed to Captains Flat and Beverly Hills. 

 Q. How is the quality of water supplied to the town monitored?

A. Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council carries out operational water quality monitoring of the Captains Flat water supply system every three months. In addition, verification monitoring is required by the NSW Health Drinking Water Monitoring Program, which requires the weekly collection of samples for microbial analysis and biannual sampling for chemical and physical analysis. 

Q. Is it safe to swim in the Molonglo River?

A. Recreational water quality is not consistently monitored in the Molonglo River. In addition to potential variation of water quality from mine seepage, quality can vary dependent upon agricultural activity within the catchment, drought and weather patterns including intense periods of rainfall. In terms of any risk associated with lead contamination, it is important to note that lead is not readily absorbed through the skin.

Q. We have chickens. Are their eggs safe to consume?

A. In general, poultry foraging in lead contaminated soils may swallow enough lead to cause their eggs to become contaminated with lead and may become unsuitable for consumption. To prevent contamination:

Q. How can I find out if my livestock have been exposed to lead?

A. If you own food-producing animals and are concerned they may be affected by lead, please contact the Braidwood Local Land Services office for assessment and potential testing of at-risk livestock at 42 Ryrie Street, Braidwood (8:30am-4:30pm), by calling 4842 3800 or completing the online customer enquiry form.

Q. We have pets. Are they safe in our yard or do they need to be rehomed? They dig the dirt and eat the grass.

A. Dust from the contaminated soil may contain lead particles and could be brought into the house on your shoes or your pet’s feet. To reduce potential exposure to lead, pets should be washed regularly, and you should wash your hands with soap and water after touching your pets. Washing or wet-mopping floors, stairs and windowsills will help reduce your exposure to dust from your pets.

Q. How do I know if my pet/s have been exposed to lead?

A. If you are concerned about your pet, contact your private veterinary practitioner for advice.

Q. Will the testing affect property values?

A. We cannot speculate as to whether the results of testing will impact property values. The focus of the precautionary testing is to help inform interested residents about any potential risk of elevated lead levels on their property.

Q. Can lead contamination get into fruit if the tree is in contaminated soil?

A. It is possible, but fruit take up less lead than leafy or root vegetables. It also depends on how much lead is in the soil where the plant is growing. If you are worried about this, the EPA can test the soil at your property to see if there are elevated lead levels. Further health advice can be provided by NSW Heath.

Q. How are you managing my privacy?  

A. We are managing private information in accordance with the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 and the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002. Personal information including contact information, the outcome of private property testing, and blood test results will not be disclosed without consent. 

Q. Who can I speak to if I’m worried about this?

A. If you find the awareness of this precautionary approach to testing for lead in the community is contributing to additional concern in your life, there are things you can do to take care of yourself and your mental health. If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s mental health you can call the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 for advice. If you or someone is in immediate danger call 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.

You can also consult your GP for advice, to discuss a Mental Health Treatment Plan or request referral to specialised mental health clinicians and services, including social workers, mental health nurses, psychologists or psychiatrists.

Further assistance can also be sought from online counselling and information services including Beyond Blue, Headspace and Kids Helpline. You can also contact your local Rural Adversity Mental Health Program Coordinator, Judy Carmody on 0417 131 301, who can provide you advice on appropriate services and resources in your local area.

Q. Where can I find more information?

A. Call EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555 or email info@environment.nsw.gov.au.

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