Surface soil testing and other data collection activities are being carried out on public land in Captains Flat, a small former mining town in the NSW Southern Tablelands, following the discovery of elevated levels of lead in the disused rail corridor adjacent to the legacy Lake George Mine.
Captains Flat Taskforce
A taskforce of local and state government representatives has been established to oversee the work and keep the local community informed. The Captains Flat Taskforce is working to provide the best possible outcomes for the Captains Flat community and includes representatives from:
- Department of Regional NSW – Regional Development; Mining, Exploration and Geoscience; Primary Industries
- NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
- NSW Health
- NSW Department of Planning and Environment – Crown Lands
- Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council
- Transport for NSW
- NSW Department of Education
Mine Site Rehabilitation
Living safely with lead
People can continue to safely live and work in visit Captains Flat and to minimise potential exposure to lead by:
- Frequently washing their hands, particularly after working outdoors.
- Regularly washing family pets and toys, including outdoor play equipment.
- Regularly washing or wet-mopping floors, stairs and windowsills to reduce dust.
- Not allowing children to play in soil or dirt that may be contaminated, e.g. digging and building BMX bike jumps and tracks.
- Using raised garden beds and covering exposed dirt with turf or mulch to prevent dust being carried by the wind.
- Washing fresh produce before cooking or eating.
- Only drinking from the Captains Flat town water supply.
Questions and answers
The mine, rail corridor and environment
A. The Captains Flat area is naturally mineralised with lead and other metals. This is the reason there was such significant mining in the town. The Lake George Mine produced lead, zinc, copper, pyrite, silver and gold. When mining operations commenced in the area over 120 years ago, standards for environmental protection like dust management were very different. Highly mineralised soil and dust would have been spread around the mine site during its operation, and at the loading site in the rail corridor. Waste was also stockpiled on the mine site and it is not known how far soil and dust from the mine site and rail corridor may have spread.
A. Since the mine’s closure in 1962, the NSW Government has undertaken significant work to remediate the site, including erosion control, stabilising and capping tailings, drainage improvements, removal of contaminated material and other safety works. Planned works will involve neutralising soil, capping and revegetating bare areas on the mine site and pursuing options to treat water coming from the mine.
A. Sampling of soil showed lead levels varied considerably at different locations in the rail corridor. Some locations did not show any signs of lead, while others had levels at over 60,000 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg). The highest levels surrounded the site where the ore was formerly loaded onto rail cars.
A. The EPA has declared the site as significantly contaminated and asked Transport for NSW to develop a Voluntary Management Proposal to manage the site in the longer term. A Voluntary Management Proposal would need to include further investigations and remediation required for the site, along with milestone dates for this work to be completed.
A. Transport for NSW will fence off parts of the corridor that tested as having high levels of lead, including where the ore was formerly loaded onto the rail cars. Signage will also be installed to warn pedestrians that high levels of lead were detected in the area.
Testing for lead
A. Yes. On 2 February 2021, the NSW EPA started testing soil from publicly owned land in Captains Flat, including the preschool, the public primary school, community hall and parks. The NSW EPA is also available to test privately owned residential properties.
The NSW Government has appointed Ramboll to carry out further sampling and data collection on public lands beyond the mine site. The findings from this work are expected in October 2021.
A. While elevated levels of lead in and around the site of a former lead-producing mine are not unexpected, the NSW Government wants to investigate levels of lead beyond the former mine site and rail corridor.
Additional sampling by environmental consultants on public land around the town will help the NSW Government better understand the extent of contamination in Captains Flat and develop options to manage lead on public lands beyond the mine site.
A. Testing carried out by Transport for NSW identified elevated levels of lead in parts of the Captains Flat rail corridor beside the former Lake George Mine. This is likely the result of material extracted from the mine being loaded into rail tracks for transportation.
Following the testing of the rail corridor and to keep the community in Captains Flat safe, the NSW Government is carrying out similar testing of public land to investigate levels of lead.
A. The EPA carried out 80 tests of surface soils on public and community spaces in Captains Flat during February 2021. Tests carried out in the northern part of the village generally returned low readings, except for the park on the corner of Foxlow and Spring streets, known as Foxlow Parklet.
In the southern part of the village closer to the former mine, readings were elevated for lead at some locations, including on the roadside on Foxlow Street between the Captains Flat Hotel and the Captains Flat Fire Station, and at the preschool. To understand more about this, read the EPA full report.
A. Further analysis of the tests taken by the EPA on public land has been carried out and the results have been shared with the landowners (i.e. Council or Crown Lands) to consider appropriate action. The EPA will provide technical advice on managing this contamination where needed.
A. Yes. Private landholders and residents can contact the NSW EPA for free soil testing. The EPA are also happy to collect a rainwater tank sample if the tank is accessible. To enquire or arrange a test please contact the EPA Environment Line on 131 555.
A. Using specialist equipment, the NSW EPA will screen soil to get an early indication of lead levels at the time of testing. If elevated levels are indicated, soil will be sent to a laboratory for further testing to confirm the level of lead. Landholders and residents that consent to soil testing on their land will be provided with a report within six weeks from testing.
A. All results from the rail corridor and public lands testing by the EPA will be shared. Results from EPA testing on private properties will be shared with the landowner and resident, and with the local council and Regional NSW for specific purposes if consent is provided.
A. If elevated lead levels are discovered on your property, the EPA will help you understand the results and practical things you can do around your home or business to minimise your exposure to lead, such as washing your hands regularly or covering patches of bare soil with grass or mulch to prevent dust.
A. The EPA’s residential soil sampling program is ongoing. No end date is proposed at this time. Residents that want to have their property tested can contact the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.
A. Remediation of the Lake George Mine has been funded by the NSW Government and remediation work is likely to commence in March next year. The aim of the work will be to treat bare areas (which correlate to contaminated areas) reducing potentially contaminated dust from spreading and ceasing erosion causing contaminated sediment to wash off the mine site.
The lead management plan will identify hotspots that have been contaminated in town during the past and develop strategies to remediate or abate the impacts from this.
It should be noted that the reason there is a mine at Captains Flat is because the area is locally mineralised.
A. The likelihood that a person has been exposed is dependent on several factors including the level of lead in the immediate environment and activities that could increase exposure, the length of exposure and the person’s age and general health. If you are concerned about possible exposure to high levels of lead, please see your local GP to request a blood test. You can request this test to be bulk billed.
A. A Health Investigation Level (HIL A) of 300 mg/kg of lead in residential* soil has been set as a level for further investigation by Schedule B1 of the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999. Where a site exceeds 300 mg/kg of lead, the NSW Lead Management Action Plan (NSW Interdepartmental Lead Taskforce, Environment Protection Authority, 1994) sets the following levels for management which can be used as guidelines for site specific residential properties:
- < 300 mg/kg - no action
- 300-1,500 mg/kg - grass cover or other appropriate barrier
- 1,500-5,000 mg/kg - top dress with 50mm clean soil and grass cover
- 5,000 mg/kg - soil replacement (top 200mm)
*HIL A – Residential with garden/accessible soil (home grown produce <10% fruit and vegetable intake (no poultry), also includes childcare centres, preschools and primary schools.
The Health Investigation Level for parks, recreational open space and playing fields is 600 mg/kg of lead.
A. Yes. Broken Hill in the far west of NSW is one example of a mining community successfully living with lead. There are practical ways to manage potential exposure to lead in and around the home, such as washing your hands regularly, using raised garden beds and covering exposed dirt with turf or mulch to prevent dust being carried by the wind.
Information is also provided in the Managing lead around the home in Captains Flat fact sheet.
A. See advice on how to avoid lead exposure. Information about potential health issues associated with lead exposure is available on the NSW Health website.
Information is also provided in the Managing lead around the home in Captains Flat fact sheet.
A. The town’s water supply system sources raw water directly from Captains Flat Dam, an 820 ML on-stream dam on the Molonglo River. This dam is a remnant of the old mining scheme from the early 1900s. Tailing dams next to the on-stream dam, failed during the 1940s releasing highly contaminated water and sediments into the dam. Diversion pipes are now in place to minimise direct water run-off from the former mining areas into the raw water storage dam.
A. The water treatment plant was upgraded in 2002. Raw water is treated with a coagulant to draw out dissolved metals and other impurities before passing through an ultra-filtration membrane filter. Following treatment, which includes fluoridation and disinfection at the plant, water is transferred to two reservoirs before being distributed to Captains Flat and Beverly Hills.
A. Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council carries out operational water quality monitoring of the Captains Flat water supply system every three months. In addition, verification monitoring is required by the NSW Health Drinking Water Monitoring Program, which requires the weekly collection of samples for microbial analysis and biannual sampling for chemical and physical analysis.
A. Water collected in rainwater tanks varies in quality and is impacted by the management and maintenance of the associated roof catchments, which could collect dust and debris. Tank water quality can also be affected by lead-based paint used on roof surfaces and lead flashings, as well as lead–based solder in tanks and plumbing lines, pipes, water laying for extended periods in copper pipes, and other plumbing fixtures containing lead and copper.
Water from your rainwater tank should not be used for any potable purpose including drinking, brushing your teeth, food preparation, or irrigation of edible fruit or vegetables, unless you know that it is compliant with the Australian Drinking Water Guideline Values. The EPA can test your tank water while testing soil at your property, or alternative testing advice can be provided by NSW Health.
The Captains Flat Town Water Supply remains the most reliable source of good quality drinking water because it is treated and regularly monitored for compliance with the Drinking Water Guidelines.
Further advice on rainwater tank water quality and tank maintenance is available from NSW Health here. Alternatively, you can contact the Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 and ask to speak with an Environmental Health Officer.
A. Water from your rainwater tank should not be used for any potable purpose including drinking, brushing your teeth, food preparation, or irrigation of edible fruit or vegetables,
Poultry and other animals should not be given this water for drinking or be provided grass cuttings as forage from lawn that has been watered with this tank water.
Water in your tank can still safely be used to irrigate non–edible gardens and lawns and hose down hard surfaces including pathways and driveways.
A. NSW Health recommends that groundwater (bore water) is not used for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene (including cleaning teeth and bathing) without testing and appropriate treatment including disinfection. In this regard, it is also recommended that you do not use your bore to top up your rainwater tank, irrigate fruit or vegetables, or use in swimming pools or spas without testing.
Groundwater users should be familiar with the quality of their water. This can be done by testing the microbiological, chemical and radiological quality of the water. Water should meet water quality guidelines in order to protect your family’s health and your animals’ health where being used for stock and domestic animal purposes. Refer to private water supply testing service and DPI Water quality and testing for more information on water quality and treatment.
Further advice on groundwater quality is also available from NSW Health here. Alternatively, you can contact the Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 and ask to speak with an Environmental Health Officer.
A. Recreational water quality is not consistently monitored in the Molonglo River. In addition to potential variation of water quality from mine seepage, quality can vary dependent upon agricultural activity within the catchment, drought and weather patterns including intense periods of rainfall. Swimming is not recommended after heavy rainfall.
Swimming may result in swallowing water or contaminated sand or sediment, either intentionally or unintentionally. Due to the dilution of heavy metals or chemicals, it is unlikely that recreational water users will come into contact with concentrations high enough to cause adverse effects following a single exposure. Continued exposure is unlikely to result in adverse effects at the concentrations in recreational water, and with the exposure patterns of most recreational water users. In terms of any risk associated with lead contamination, it is important to note that lead is not readily absorbed through the skin.
If swimming in the Molonglo River results in an adverse health impact, please consult your doctor for further advice.
A. In general, poultry foraging in lead contaminated soils may swallow enough lead to cause their eggs to become contaminated with lead and may become unsuitable for consumption. To prevent contamination:
- Poultry should not be allowed to range freely through the yard where lead is suspected/proven.
- Poultry can be housed on a concrete or bitumen floor with 150mm layer of straw, wood shavings or hull.
- Visibly dirty eggs may be wiped with a damp cloth.
A. Food producing animals exposed to lead may have levels of lead residue potentially harmful to human health in the meat, liver, kidney, milk and eggs that they produce, without showing signs of illness.
A. If you own food-producing animals and are concerned they may be affected by lead, please contact the Braidwood Local Land Services office for assessment and potential testing of at-risk livestock at 42 Ryrie Street, Braidwood (8:30am-4:30pm), by calling 4842 3800 or completing the online customer enquiry form.
A. Dust from the contaminated soil may contain lead particles and could be brought into the house on your shoes or your pet’s feet. To reduce potential exposure to lead, pets should be washed regularly, and you should wash your hands with soap and water after touching your pets. Washing or wet-mopping floors, stairs and windowsills will help reduce your exposure to dust from your pets.
A. If you are concerned about your pet, contact your private veterinary practitioner for advice.
A. We cannot speculate as to whether the results of testing will impact property values. The focus of the EPA’s precautionary testing is to help inform interested residents about any potential risk of elevated lead levels on their property. Test results are not intended to be used to establish a property’s contaminated land status for the purposes of sale of land.
A. Plants do not readily absorb lead, but the amount they do absorb depends on the species and the variety of plant, the chemical composition of the soil, the amount of lead in the soil and the soil temperature. Leafy vegetables and herbs tend to accumulate more lead compared to fruiting vegetables. If you are worried about this, the EPA can test the soil at your property to see if there are elevated lead levels.
Water from your rainwater tank should not be used for any potable purpose including irrigation of edible fruit or vegetables, unless you know that it is compliant with the Australian Drinking Water Guideline Values. The EPA can test your tank water while testing soil at your property, or alternative testing advice can be provided by NSW Health.
Further advice can be provided by contacting the Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055. Please ask to speak with an Environmental Health Officer.
Information is also provided in the Managing lead around the home in Captains Flat fact sheet.
A. We are managing private information in accordance with the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 and the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002. Personal information including contact information, the outcome of private property testing, and blood test results will not be disclosed without consent.
A. If you find the awareness of this precautionary approach to testing for lead in the community is contributing to additional concern in your life, there are things you can do to take care of yourself and your mental health. If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s mental health you can call the NSW Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 for advice. If you or someone is in immediate danger call 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.
You can also consult your GP for advice, to discuss a Mental Health Treatment Plan or request referral to specialised mental health clinicians and services, including social workers, mental health nurses, psychologists or psychiatrists.
Further assistance can also be sought from online counselling and information services including Beyond Blue, Headspace and Kids Helpline. You can also contact your local Rural Adversity Mental Health Program Coordinator, Judy Carmody on 0417 131 301, who can provide you advice on appropriate services and resources in your local area.
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