Imagine this scenario. You’re planning to go out sailing with a group of friends, but the day before you leave you hear a warning that there might be a severe storm warning, the worst in 20 years. Would you risk it?
Obviously, you wouldn’t. This is because even though you’re not certain something might go wrong, it isn’t worth risking the lives of you and your crew. Scientists call this idea the ‘Precautionary Principal’ – that if there is lot at risk, you have to put safety first.
This idea is particularly important when it comes to protecting the waters like Sydney Harbour. Right now, the state government is trying to rush a $6 billion dollar development on Sydney harbour. In doing so, they are taking a risk with our Harbour.
It’s a risk because there is major contamination at the site. Up until 1915, Barangaroo was the site of Sydney’s major ‘gas works’ – where coal was turned into a flammable gas that was used for heating and lighting. Gas from the site was pumped all over Sydney, from Marrickville in the west to Randwick in the east.
Gas works also produce a whole cocktail of toxic by-products. The common practice of the times was to bury waste product on site. Some of these toxic by-products left buried in the Barangaroo include coal tar (which contains carcinogens), cyanide and petrol.
From there, the story gets worse. As the gas works expanded, land was reclaimed by ‘filling in’ the harbour. In those days, that meant building a stone wall and just filling in behind it with anything they needed to dispose of. I had the cartoon seen here drawn to show you what I mean.
When you’re dealing with a complex and contaminated site it’s easy for things to go wrong. We know that because we’ve seen the state government rush other projects, like back before the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
At the time, the government was facing the clean up of a site that had been contaminated by a range of toxic materials being dumped there over more than fifty years of chemical manufacturing at Homebush Bay. Compromises created by commercial greed have seen commercial fishing banned in Sydney Harbour after toxic dioxins continue to leak out of sediments around the site.
Once $6 billion dollars worth of development and construction is completed at Barangaroo, it will be too late to fix any mistakes. What is needed here is a responsible review of the proposal and well informed action. With the whole Harbour at risk, let’s make sure that prudence is not sacrificed for ignorance and greed.
Ian Kiernan AO