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Flashback: Multinational wood products company released 2,430 times the safe limit of carcinogenic hexavalent chromium into Australian groundwater

Hexavalent chromium

(NaturalNews) The site of a now-shuttered timber treatment plant in Hume, Australia, a suburb of Canberra, is the subject of a new investigation concerning polluted groundwater and the government's failure to act in the public interest. The Canberra Times reports that Koppers Wood Products (KWP), a multinational corporation that has since vacated the site, allowed hexavalent chromium to leech into protected groundwater at levels up to 2,430 times the safe limit, while environmental officials at the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) did nothing to stop it.

When KWP first settled the roughly 50-acre plot of land back in the 1980s, which sits near a small tributary that passes through an ecologically protected wetlands area, local residents, environmental protection groups and even some politicians expressed concerns about the plant polluting the area. Both Jerrabomberra Creek and Lake Burley Griffin, two nearby water sources that contain rich ecological diversity, help recharge local aquifers that provide drinking water for nearby residents.

ACT ended up ignoring these concerns and allowing KWP to set up shop at the site anyway, a move that would later prove to be disastrous for the safety of local groundwater. Not only would the KWP plant end up spewing untold amounts of toxic arsenic waste left over from processing, but it would also dump much higher levels of hexavalent chromium, the infamous carcinogen exposed globally by environmental activist Erin Brockovich.

ACT ignores environmental violations by KWP; fails to enforce legal requirements

As it turns out, KWP had been legally bound to submit annual reports to the state government about groundwater test results, a requirement that the company apparently shirked for many years without consequence. For nearly 10 years, KWP reportedly failed to submit these reports, resulting in chrome, arsenic and other toxins leeching into waterways.

When ACT's Environment Protection Authority (EPA) finally noticed this in 2005, the same year that KWP conveniently shut down its operations and fled the site, the agency still chose not to take any sort of legal action against the company, sparking a wave of outrage. Now, a coalition of environmental activists and concerned citizens has decided to take matters into their own hands and pursue justice.

"I just can't believe it has actually happened," stated ACT environment protection chief Bob Dunn to The Canberra Times, noting that he believes with "absolute certainty" that KWP broke the law and deserves criminal penalties. "Something has gone wrong somewhere, I believe it's clear. How can you say anything else?"

The EPA has reportedly since admitted that KWP was, indeed, responsible for polluting, at the very least, a small pocket of groundwater known as a perched aquifer uphill from Jerrabomberra Creek. The agency insists that the pollution is isolated to this one spot and is not at risk of spreading, but because it has refused to conduct any assessment or test to verify this, the local community is not convinced.

"They really should be doing periodic monitoring because there's no telling what might cause that to move off, to start moving around," added Dunn about the situation. "Monitoring is not that expensive, and I think what they're talking about is just an excuse."

KWP officials deny having any knowledge about groundwater testing requirements

When questioned about what took place while KWP still occupied the site, several former senior employees at the company claimed that they had "no knowledge" of any groundwater monitoring requirements, indicating that these tests were likely never performed, let alone submitted, for government review. To this day, there is no evidence that KWP ever tested either soil or groundwater in the area as required by law, which means chemicals are likely embedded all over the place unseen.

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