Wentworth Park waste dump

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The Wentworth Park waste dump - Old Howrah Tipsite which was established in 1961 by the Clarence Commission. In 1965 Poppy Lopatniuk, her husband and three young daughters moved into a newly built home in Howrah, a beachside suburb in Hobart, Tasmania. There had been two lagoons in swampy area behind sand dunes[1] which had been infilled with domestic waste.

Background on the development of the tip

In February 1961, the land for the site had been proclaimed in the Tasmanian Government Gazette as being set aside for "the purpose of disposal of refuse".[2]

When this landfill was commenced, Mr C. Hand, the chairman of the Clarence Commission sought to reassure residents that the proposed dump would pose no risk. "The chairman said that he was convinced there would be no menace to health whatever ... Strict control would be exercised from the start," The Mercury newspaper reported. It also reported that "the land which would be reclaimed was a low-lying swamp. It was a breeding ground for flies and mosquitoes and completely useless in its present condition."[3] In a similar vein, the commission also stated that one of the reasons it favoured the development of a "controlled" tip as it "was the most effective way of reclaiming unsightly swamps and transforming them into badly needed recreation grounds".[4]

The Mercury also reported that, according to Hand, that the Director of Public Health "previously had expressed his satisfaction with the way in which tipping at the Kangaroo Bay refuse disposal site had been conducted."[3] However, the Kangaroo Bay tip had no adjoining residential properties.

In 2002 a Mineral Resources Report by Andrew Ezzy The effects of waste disposal on groundwater quality in Tasmania stated that the Howrah Landfill was an uncontrolled site.[5] There was no monitoring done during landfilling or when the landfill was opened up for housing.

Unbeknown to residents of the Wentworth Park area this landfill was a repository for used oils from the time when it was opened. A local man stated that he had personally dumped more than 36,000 litres of oil over four years and he did it under the direction of the supervisor – it was legal to do so.[6]

Health impacts in the local area

Long-term local resident, Poppy Lopatniuk, states that:

"There have been 26 cancer deaths to adults and eleven auto immune illnesses to children that I have documented mainly in two small streets at either end of the landfill, all from families who settled in the area in the ten years after the residential building started and the tipsite still partially operating. Subsequent families who have come to live in the streets after the first ten years have not been affected by ill-health."
"My son was born 3 yrs after we arrived – he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia when 8 yrs old – he was in remission at 14 yrs of age and relapsed in 2001 – underwent bone marrow transplant and died 2003. My grandson (his mother lived in area for 25 yrs) was diagnosed with craniopharyngioma brain tumour in 1998, this a one in a million disease and apart from medication the family is just left to deal with the tragic and disabling consequences. Another daughter has Lupus erythematosis and Hashimoto’s disease, while another has Raynard’s disease. My husband died of Alzheimers in 2000."
"Close neighbours suffered a rare bone cancer and a teratoma cancer – both of these cancers are uncommon. Among the other cancers were kidney, liver, throat, uterine and lung cancer to non-smokers, also leukaemia and non Hodgkins Lymphomas. I knew of two cancer victims who beside their primary cancer also had brain tumours. A teacher from a Wentworth Park School diagnosed with chemical sensitivity and leads a severely curtailed life. Eleven children suffered autoimmune diseases and these children were in homes all in close proximity to one another."
"It was in late 1998 when my grandson’s brain tumour had been diagnosed that I started approaching the Clarence Council and Health Department for answers.[7] The council denied that the soil was tested for contamination.[8]

An ABC documentary on this health issue was broadcast in 2003. It took Judy Tierney, investigative journalist, almost a year trying to get any evidence from reluctant bureaucracy. Other neighbours who had lost family members from cancer appeared on this programme and we all asked for accountability from the government and an investigation into the cause of this very high incidence of cancer mortality and auto immune illness. Dr Roscoe Taylor, Director of Public Health appeared on the programme and Dr. Mark Jacobs the outgoing Director of Public Health, who did not appear on the programme, both quoted Tasmanian Cancer Registry figures as showing there was not a cancer cluster appearing in this area. Phillip Tattersall, a soil scientist expressed extreme concern about the burnt engine oils and waste chemicals disposed of in such close vicinity to residences and he stated that the area should be classified as a hazardous site.[6]

In the aftermath of Tierney's story, The Mercury published a number of stories on Wentworth Park controversy including interviews with Lopatniuk and Dr Taylor where the issue of contamination at Wentworth Park was raised.[9] Three editorials in The Mercury were devoted to the issue in the few days round this time.[10][11][12]

One of the articles on front page of The Mercury told the story of the Kerslake family, of whom five members all lost their lives to cancer – all lived in houses bordering the former landfill site.[13] Another story was on the death of Ms Elly Bolt’s brother, Jim, who died of leukemia. He had grown vegetables in soil not far from controversial Howrah tip and been diagnosed with a rare cancer when 34 years of age and died at 61 years of leukaemia.[14]

Also appearing in the paper in late April a feature regarding Judy Jackson, the then Environmental Health Minister - reference being made to the Cancer Registry's statistics on cancer in the Howrah area. These statistics were not defined down to streets but across the 7018 postcode which incorporated Wentworth Park residential subdivision and included the suburbs of Mornington, Rosny, Howrah and Bellerive. The Menzies Research Centre - a partnership medical facility between the University of Tasmania and Government - stated that they had not been asked to investigate cancer cases reported round the Wentworth Park landfill site as Mrs. Jackson had stated. Jackson also claimed that the landfill site had been used only for domestic waste.[15] However, the Tasmanian Minister for Health, David Llewellyn, refused to release the data which had been provided by the Menzies Institute. The Director of Public Health, Roscoe Taylor, also refused to release the data claiming that "there is no cover-up". According to The Mercury Roscoe "said the information could be misinterpreted, would not be statistically helpful and could cause undue alarm".[16]

Approximately half of the people who died from cancers or suffered illnesses and who had been of the original families settling in the area - were diagnosed and died after leaving the Wentworth Park area, hence would not have shown up on the postcode Cancer Registry figures.

Response to the Media Coverage

There was much remedial action taken by the Clarence Council on the Wentworth Park grasslands after the ABC programme[17] and it was only then that the Minister for Health agreed to a wide ranging comprehensive independent investigation. Tenders were called for firms to undertake the investigation and URS Australia Pty. Ltd. were chosen by a panel comprising:

  • Colleen Cole, Senior Environmental Officer, Environment Division Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (DPIWE);
  • Joseph Tranter, Environmental Officer, Environment Division DPIWE;
  • Ron Vanderwal, Senior Environmental Health Officer, Clarence City Council; and
  • Martin Bicevskis, Senior Medical Officer, Department of Health and Human Services Tasmania (DHHS).

In the Expression of Interest – Statement of Requirements – called for by the DPIWE it was stated that "the Consultant must consult with DPIWE on the sampling plan prior to sampling being undertaken and must also consult with DPIWE (who will then consult with DHHS and Clarence City Council) on the draft report, including results of the HRA, prior to submission of the final report."[18]

On July 2nd 2004 The Mercury reported that testing at the former tip site had commenced.[19] In a letter to Mrs Lopatniuk, URS explained that sampling had been undertaken at twenty-two locations including "nine soil bores, six soil gas wells and seven groundwater wells."[20]

URS Australia Pty Ltd. Final Report was prepared for DPIWE and dated 29th September 2004 stated that "no leachate was found on the sites and no oil residues."[citation needed] The Consultant had told Lopatniuk that they were aware that waste oil was thought to have been disposed at the site. The exact locations within the site where this activity is thought to have occurred were unknown. However, Judy Tierney had spoken to the man who directed operations at the tipsite; he was living in the locality at the time of URS investigation.[6]

On 7th October 2004 Mrs Jackson and Mrs. Edwards, the Mayor of Clarence fronted the media at Wentworth Park stated that the former landfill was declared safe for users of Wentwork Park.[21] URS chief consultant, Jeff Bazelmans, said when asked about whether contaminant levels could have decreased over time, he said "the values we found are extremely low. I can't speculate on what happened in the past, so I can't give you a definitive answer to that."[22]

Walking the site and comparing maps of the orginal extent of Wentworth Park dump site, Lopatniuk considered that the soil bores were sunk in the high altitde surrounds of the tip area and on compacted roadways and not from the lowlands or actual tipsites.[23]

There was no epidemiology study done prior or during this investigation. Lopatniuk obtained a copy of an assessment of the URS Report done through the Canberra Toxics Network. John Craven, Environmental consultant did the assessment which argued that an epidemiology study should have preceded the investigation. It also raised questions about the thoroughness of the URS investigation.[24]

According to Lopatniuk, most the people who have died from cancers were the gardeners within their families – the children with auto-immune illnesses were the children who walked over the finished landfills on their way to schools. "Being a landfill I can remember there was a lot of spraying to keep mosquitos and vermin down Council would not enumerate on what chemicals would have been used".[25]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Map of original shoreline, undated but approx 1960.
  2. "Town of Howrah", Tasmanian Government Gazette, February 22, 1961.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Howrah confirmed for garbage tip", The Mercury, June 17, 1961, page 7.
  4. "Higher rate if area of tip moved", The Mercury, June 20, 1961, page 19.
  5. A. R. Ezzy, The effects of waste disposal on groundwater quality in Tasmania: An overview of NHT funded project NLP13188, Geological Survey Tasmania, December 2002.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Judy Tierney, "A warning about potential contamination from Tasmania's tips", "Stateline", ABC TV, May 30, 2003. (Scroll down to see comments by Basil Shearing)
  7. Poppy Lopatniuk, email to Bob Burton, October 2009.
  8. Paula Wreidt, Minister for Tourism, Arts and the Environment, Letter to Poppy Lopatnuik, September 3, 2007.
  9. Anne Barbeliuk, "Call for landfill cancer inquiry", The Mercury, April 26, 2004.
  10. "Jackson shoots messenger", Editorial, The Mercury, May 6, 2004, page 16.
  11. "Jackson bows to pressure", The Mercury, undated, page 18.
  12. "Out of sight, out of mind", The Mercury, undated.
  13. Ellen Whinnett, "Mystery of a dying family", The Mercury, April 30, 2004.
  14. Michelle Paine, "Old tip question over brother's cancer fare", The Mercury May 3, 2004.
  15. "Minister in cancer row: Menzies Institute refutes Jackson claim about research", The Mercury, April 28, 2004, page 5.
  16. "Information withheld", The Mercury, undated, approx April/May 2004.
  17. see photos
  18. "Evaluation Panel Report: Environmental consultant to undertake site assessment works at Wentworth Park", June 8, 2004, page 5.
  19. Heather Loy Choy, "Contaminant tests begin at old tip site", The Mercury, July 2, 2004.
  20. URS, Letter to Mrs Poppy Lopatniuk, October 18, 2004.
  21. Judy Jackson and Ald. Cathy Edwards, "Clean bill of health for Wentworth Park", October 6, 2004.
  22. Heather Low Choy, "Former landfill gets a clean bill of health", The Mercury, October 7, 2004.
  23. Poppy Lopatniuk, email to Bob Burton, October 2009.
  24. John Craven, "Report on the site assessment at Wentworth Park, Howrah, Tasmania, undertaken by URS", April 2005.
  25. Poppy Lopatniuk, email to Bob Burton, October 2009.

External resources

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