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Thebarton bore water ban proposed after hazardous waste contaminates groundwater

The EPA South Australia has begun community consultation on a proposed bore water ban in Thebarton after hazardous waste was found to be contaminating groundwater.

In a statement on July 3, EPA director for regulation, Peter Dolan, said the area’s groundwater had been contaminated by a number of hazardous chemicals associated with manufacturing and industry, including chlorinated and petroleum hydrocarbons such as tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) and nitrates.

The proposed groundwater prohibition area (GPA) is bounded by South and Port roads, and the River Torrens, with the southern border beginning at Rose Street and ending at Livingstone Street in Thebarton.

“The EPA has been undertaking environmental assessment work related to a former metal processing site on George Street, Thebarton, since 2017, and it is this contamination that has resulted in the move towards a GPA,” Dolan said.

“PCE and TCE can cause serious health problems – including cancer – if people come into contact with them over long periods of time. The bore water ban is designed to remove the major pathway for exposure.

“TCE and PCE remain in the environment for a long time and are notoriously difficult to remove from groundwater once an aquifer is contaminated. These chemicals could still be there in hundreds of years,” Dolan explained.

He said there were six other sources of contamination in the proposed GPA as well as the George Street metal works.

Groundwater testing undertaken by a third party at one of the sites also found heavy metals, including a small amount of uranium.

“We are reassuring residents that radiation is not a cause for concern, as the uranium contains only low levels of naturally occurring radioactive material.

“There would be a risk of metal poisoning, though, if anyone were to drink the contaminated groundwater, the same as if the water were contaminated with heavy metals like lead or mercury.”

In the early 1950s, the waste from this area was disposed of in a nearby pughole. Most of the contaminated material from the pughole was removed in the 1980s and ’90s, and the pit was filled in and paved over. It is now a carpark.

Only residual amounts of uranium remain, and the groundwater contamination is localised to a single test site next to the pughole, with no evidence it has moved off the laboratory site.