Mooball labourers ‘lay’ in radioactive tailings
FORMER Tweed Shire Council plumber Geoff Keevers believes there are radioactive tailings left under homes in Mooball and that his rare blood disease could have been caused by exposure to it.
He has shared his experience with the Tweed Daily News following last week's page 1 story about a possible cancer cluster in the village.
The 56-year-old removed toxic thorium-rich monazite tailings from the ground in the village in 1982, the same time a NSW Health Commission surveyed radioactivity in the region.
At the time Mr Keevers was 24 and worked with a team of labourers to dig the "black sand" from underneath homes "by hand".
Throughout the five-month operation his team was required to wear a Geiger counter "on their hip" so authorities supervising the clean-up could collect radiation data.
"We cut slabs of concrete out, dug it away with spades, put clean fill back in and re-concreted it. Sometimes I was in six feet deep (in the "black sand") if we had to get the septic out. Under some buildings, we were in it on our hands and knees. Sometimes we were lying on it on our stomachs."
Mr Keevers was diagnosed with essential thrombocythaemia - a condition where his bone marrow is overactive - when he was just 44-years-old, and has not been able to work full-time since.
According to the Leukaemia Foundation the condition causes blood clotting; is treated with chemotherapy, and typically affects three in every 100,000 people in the 50-70 age bracket.
At the time of his diagnosis Mr Keevers claims his oncologist asked him to seek out the Geiger counter readings suspecting exposure to high levels of radiation.
"I went to council and they said they have no record of the job and no record of the Geiger counters. (At the time) they never let you see the results. If you asked for the results, they would just say 'yeah - they were alright'."
The Council confirmed a letter from Mr Keevers in August 2001 which sought information about "the removal of sand from around and under buildings and yards in the Mooball township".
"The advice to Mr Keevers at the time was to seek the information from the Department of Health, as they may have the details he was seeking," the spokesperson said.
He's not the first to raise alarm. Over a year ago Tweed GP Paul Malouf wrote to the council and Northern NSW Health about dozens of cancer cases in the village possibly linked to soil contamination.
The doctor was told the onus was on him to progress the claim further with more patient evidence to the NSW Public Health Unit.
Dr Malouf has this week confirmed to the Tweed Daily News he will progress his submissions to the Unit "in the interest of the health of the community and the environment".
"Best case scenario they find nothing," he said.
Mr Keevers supported the call for a thorough investigation.
"I've been saying it (was here) for years. Nobody listened. I hope (after the Tweed Daily News story) someone will listen," Mr Keevers said.
"I don't think it was all gone because there was some places we just couldn't get to. If a place has a wall sitting on a footing, then you can't get under that footing."
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 Tweed Valley Way homes.