By MATTHEW KELLY
Sept. 3, 2012, midnight
THE real social and environmental cost of toxins buried on the former BHP steelworks land would not be known for decades, a chemical engineer who worked on contaminated soil samples taken from the site said.
Associate Professor John Lucas was commenting on Saturday’s Newcastle Herald report that revealed taxpayers would be liable for future problems on the site once BHP’s $100million clean-up payment is gone.
The details are contained in a 2001 Environmental Deed, which transfers the liability of the land to the Crown.
‘‘The problem with leaving contamination in place instead of removal is that something may go wrong in the future,’’ said Associate Professor Lucas, who founded Innova Soils in early 2000.
‘‘The timescale of impacts of toxic chemicals in the ground are not measured in days, weeks or even years, it’s decades before the impacts are known.’’
Innova Soils developed thermal desorption technology (removal of contaminates by heating) that was successfully demonstrated on a selection of soils taken from the former BHP site, Hunter River and other nearby industrial sites.
A BHP Billiton spokeswoman said the company had honoured its 2001 agreement with the NSW government and it would continue to fulfil its obligations regarding the site.
The Hunter Development Corporation is responsible for rehabilitating the site on behalf of the state government.
About $82million worth of works has been arranged for 83hectares of the site to date.
‘‘From what we know and from what we have done, and we have approached the process pretty carefully, we are not uncomfortable with what we have got ahead of us,’’ Hunter Development Corporation general manager Bob Hawes said.
Remediation of the Intertrade section of the site would be completed and funded by the developer, Mr Hawes said.