Drums dumping questions remain
THE wall of silence put up by a Queensland Government department around the illegal dumping of drums in a tidal lagoon near Yeppoon last month is another example of secrecy where the public has a right to know.
The Morning Bulletin first reported on the disturbing find, in a waterway adjacent to Sandy Point Road, on October 30.
At that time, authorities were working to contain eight visible drums of waste, many of which had bungs removed and their tops punctured.
Photographs taken by members of the public showed a substance had leaked into the lagoon.
Recreational anglers expressed their concerns on social media as the lagoons in this area are a breeding ground and home to numerous fish species including barramundi.
Being tidal, these lagoons also feed into Fishing Creek, Corio Bay and Waterpark Creek.
On October 30, Livingstone Shire Mayor Bill Ludwig provided The Morning Bulletin with details of the containment and removal operation.
Cr Ludwig described the dumping as environmental vandalism and also said: “It is incredibly disappointing that someone would do something this stupid.”
On October 31, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Yeppoon station officer Charlie Fenton told us that nine drums had been recovered and removed from the lagoon.
He said the drums, believed to contain a paint-based resin/thinners product, had been placed in a skip ahead of possible transport to Brisbane for proper disposal.
Mr Fenton also said some surface-contaminated soil had been taken away, and the Department of Environment had flown a drone over the area to assess environmental impacts.
“We’ve definitely recovered all of the drums,” Mr Fenton said.
“Initially we could only see eight, but we did a bottom drag just to make sure, and that’s when we found another one.
“Obviously you can’t put nine 44-gallon drums like that of any product into a waterway without causing some damage.”
Both Mayor Ludwig and Mr Fenton should be commended for the level of information and updates they provided to this newspaper and the public while the recovery and removal operation was at a crucial stage.
But when questioning shifted to the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Science, responsible for the investigation into the incident, The Morning Bulletin was stonewalled.
On November 6, The Morning Bulletin contacted the department and asked these questions:
- Has there been any developments in the investigation to find the person/s responsible?
- Has much information come to hand from the public to assist with finding those responsible?
- Has an assessment been carried out on what environmental impacts occurred as a result of the dumping?
The department’s response was: “The investigation remains ongoing at this point.”
On November 8, the same questions were again asked of the department.
The department’s response: “The investigation remains ongoing.”
On November 11, the department was asked if it would be providing any further information on this incident.
A spokesperson from the department responded with: “I’ve asked about the results and they won’t be available for a few more days.”
We then asked: “So no updates on the investigation are available at all at this stage?”
To which the department responded: “We’re still investigating.”
Still on this day, we asked if the department knew what was in the drums.
No official response was provided.
During a subsequent phone conversation with the department on the 11th, we informed that members of the public had expressed anger and concern on social media over the dumping.
We told the department: “A fortnight after the dumping and the community has not been provided with any info on what environmental impacts occurred (if any) as a result of this dumping.”
We also sent the department screenshots of two of these social media posts.
No official response was forthcoming.
On Monday this week The Morning Bulletin followed up on a tip-off from a member of the public that charges had been laid in relation to the dumping.
The department confirmed that no charges had been laid.
We again asked if the department had any information on the environmental impact from the incident.
The department indicated that something would be forthcoming on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the newspaper contacted the department about this, and we also asked if the department planned to release any information on this matter while the investigation was ongoing.
At 4.04pm on Wednesday, the department issued a media statement.
In that, it advised people not to consume fish caught in the lagoon.
The statement said:
“Test results show the drums, which were removed from the lagoon on 31 October, contained paint thinner, which can be harmful to aquatic biota.
“Paint thinner does not mix readily with water and breaks down slowly.
“Compliance officers have taken more soil and water samples from the lagoon, and people are advised not to consume fish caught in the lagoon.
“Soil and water samples are still being examined to determine the extent of environmental impacts on the lagoon.”
The first question that must be asked is: Is it acceptable that it took three weeks for a public safety warning to be issued?
Would this warning have been issued if it wasn’t for ongoing media pressure?
At some stage, the department has to make public the findings of its environmental assessment.
We have pushed hard for this information believing the public has a right to know.
Furthermore, it is our belief that the release of such information does not, and would not, jeopardise any investigation in progress in relation to this matter.
Last month News Corp, which owns this regional masthead, launched a Right To Know campaign to call for reforms to protect public interest journalism.
The Morning Bulletin’s journalists will continue to highlight examples where our press freedom is obstructed by red tape and people in power.
We deserve to be listened to and that means we deserve to know all the facts on matters that are of extreme importance to our communities.