City lawyers investigate Mooball cancer cluster claims
MOOBALL residents have made a deal with Sydney class action lawyers in hopes of gaining certainty that toxic radioactive sand - the byproduct of historic mineral sand mining from the 1950s - no longer exists underneath homes on Tweed Valley Way.
Following a local GP's concerns over 30 cases of cancer arising from 30 dwellings, about 20 households agreed last week to have radioactive dosage levels measured in the village, as part of the Macquarie St-based Windeyer Chambers 9 initial investigations into the case.
The legal action comes amid revelations some residents have stopped gardening, stopped playing at the Bernadette Kelly Park - a former mining treatment facility - and paid for their own Geiger counter readings, due to prevailing concerns of soil contamination.
This is despite multiple assurances from the Northern NSW Local Health District that thorium-rich tailings used as common soil fill under houses, in garden beds and creeks, were "adequately" cleaned-up in the 1980s, and there was insufficient evidence to trigger a formal cancer cluster investigation.
Barrister John Rowe, a solicitor, and a private investigator, met residents at Mooball's Victory Hotel last Wednesday, telling them his team "wouldn't start up a case unless we were sure we were going to win it".
Mr Rowe said the amount of radiation residents had been exposed to, the time of their exposure and its accumulation over a period of years needed to be established before any claim could be pursued in court.
"We can solve all of that, but we need a lot of assistance and co-operation to do the tests," he told residents.
While the NSW Health Department, Tweed Shire Council, and private testers had relied on a Geiger counter to measure radiation levels to give the town the all-clear, Mr Rowe told residents a "dose reader" was needed instead.
"We might do all the tests and find the levels are fine. That's good. But if we find the levels are dangerously high, then we go to the next level," he said, adding the firm would engage a US nuclear-physicist to identify a biomarker in residents' blood, measuring radiation exposure.
Resident and father-of-three Barry Pappin signed up because he wanted more assurances that the removal of sand by the then Health Commissioner in the 1980s was up to the same standards expected today.
"I was in the garden working on it all the time and I stopped when all this came up," Mr Pappin said.
Greens' MLC Jan Barham has called on the NSW Government to respond to residents' concerns, highlighted in questions recently tabled in Parliament to health and environment ministers.
In their reply, representatives of both ministers reiterated previous government agency responses, including that sands were adequately remediated and that current evidence suggested a low rate of cancer in Mooball.
"The number of cancer sufferers they used to dissolve any notion of a trigger is a misrepresentation of the locality," Ms Barham said.
"Instead of the number of people in the street, they used the whole population of the town. I will be putting a motion ... to request that NSW Health and/or the EPA conduct an independent accredited specialist survey of the area."
NNSWLHD retired chief executive Chris Crawford told TDN in January that based on a number of historic documents, no areas in Mooball "showed radiation levels above relevant action criteria" and levels of cancer in the village were as expected.