Cancer cluster fears after more than 20 deaths

HEARTBROKEN: Ronald Marshall lost his wife and two daughters to cancer. His daughters, Bernadette and Mandy, were in their 40s when they passed away. He believes radioactive 'black sands' dumped around Mooball was a contributing factor to their deaths. Photo: Alina Rylko
HEARTBROKEN: Ronald Marshall lost his wife and two daughters to cancer. His daughters, Bernadette and Mandy, were in their 40s when they passed away. He believes radioactive 'black sands' dumped around Mooball was a contributing factor to their deaths. Photo: Alina Rylko

A MULTI-GENERATIONAL tragedy costing dozens of lives on a short stretch of road in the Tweed Valley is claimed to be evidence of a cancer cluster.

A Tweed Heads GP believes a high rate of brain, bone, blood and eye cancers - killing sufferers as young as teens, and still affecting people today, could have been caused by widespread use of radioactive sand as soil fill.

He claims to be aware of 28 cancer cases on one Mooball street - treating four of those as patients. Twenty-one of those cases have been verified by the Tweed Daily News through the sufferers' family members.

The fill thought to be responsible came from the tailings produced at a 24-hour sand mining processing plant once located near Mooball-Pottsville Rd.

Intense sandmining of the Tweed was undertaken from 1935 to 1977 and government records show that from 1942 to 1952 the plant processed 29,200 tonnes of rutile and zircon, dumping 200 tonnes of radioactive monazite as tailings.

Residents have told the Tweed Daily News it was "common knowledge" tailings were used in sandpits, garden beds, house foundations, creek fills and in a drain running past the backyards of cancer sufferers.

Until it was realised the dumped materials were carcinogenic, Ronald Marshall, resident of Mooball for 61 years, said it was cheap fill.

"Everyone wanted their block filled up then," he said.

"Kevin Porter used to dump it in his truck for us, and he died of cancer too."

Historically, it's said the Tweed Shire Council attempted to remove 'black sand'.

And the NSW Health Commissioner surveyed Mooball for radiation, giving it the all-clear.

However Dr Paul Malouf - a resident of the village for more than 43 years - believes more detailed testing should be done.

"When the council went in to remove it, of course they didn't get all of it," he said.

PAPER TRAIL: Dr Paul Malouf has contacted state and local government agencies about a possible cancer cluster in Mooball, since 2013.
PAPER TRAIL: Dr Paul Malouf has contacted state and local government agencies about a possible cancer cluster in Mooball, since 2013. Nolan Verheij-Full

"I was very concerned when we sat down and put on paper the number of people who had contracted cancer in this small village," he said.

In response, the district said monitoring of mineral sand radiation was "limited" to Mooball's council park, where the plant was located.

Its most recent survey in 2010 showed "elevated radiation levels" at the park, but they were "safe" because the park did not have "regular occupancy by the same individual".

Dr Malouf was alarmed that properties on Tweed Valley Way, where he claims the cancer cluster is, had not been tested.

Mr Marshall, 91, whose family once heavily populated the street, believes carcinogenic black sand is still in the village.

Since moving in six decades ago he has lost at least 12 family members to cancer, including two daughters who died in their 40s.

"That's all in this street. I've lost two beautiful daughters.

"One, (the cancer) went from the breast up into her throat and the other one, she had it in her liver and it went to the brain."

However some residents, including those touched by cancer, are not concerned about cancer cluster and radiation claims.

They include Leo Kelly. The Mooball resident of more than 70 years said, although unclear about the exact year, the NSW Government ordered the extraction of black sands in Mooball.

This included under his home and under the railway. It was replaced with "good fillings", Mr Kelly said.

The Tweed Daily News believes by then monazite's thorium content was realised and it was valuable as nuclear fuel.

"It was so rich - 80 to 90% richer than in the (beach) terrace, they turned around and paid us for it," Mr Kelly said.

"The only thing that would be left would be the homes that were built on (black sand) before they discovered what it was."

Kenneth Kingsford said he was hired about 1982 by the then-Health Commission to identify tailings from the Queensland border to Taree, over a five-month period with a Geiger counter.

Mr Kingsford established where tailings were in Mooball, based on word-of-mouth.

"It was quite obvious where it was; the people would tell us," he said.

Confident he tested where all the tailings were, he said "none" was found at a "concerning" radioactive level in Mooball.

While Mr Kingsford was obligated to survey every home in Byron Bay, he was not obligated to do the same in Mooball.

Current Tweed Shire councillor Phil Youngblutt said no one could rule out that black sand remained.

"You'd have to test every yard for it," he has previously told the Tweed Daily News.

The council's regulation manager Vince Connell said, ultimately, radiation concerns needed to go to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The proper course of action would be for the local medical specialist to raise those concerns with NSW Health," he said.


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