EPA investigates toxic oil sludge in Broadwater homes after floods

Susanna Freymark

Dean Wilson faces a daunting clean-up of his Broadwater home.

As the water receded after the March 1 flood not only was his home full of mud but there was a thick layer of oily sludge on his kitchen benchtop, in the laundry and in his garden. Everywhere.

“My backyard and fruit trees are covered in toxic oil,” Dean said.

“I picked up clobs of mud and there is a layer of diesel sludge in my soil.”

While other houses were being hosed out of the floodwater mud, Dean is homeless and his house remains contaminated.

“When can I move back in and live in my own home again? he said.

Dean has lived in five different places since the floods and spent four nights homeless.

“I spent one night in a park,” he said.

He believes the oily sludge from his home comes from one of three sources.

Inside Dean’s Broadwater home. Photo: Dean Wilson

It could be the sugar mill, he lives one street away. Or the sugar cane truck servicing area behind his house. Or it could be the the BP servo next to his house.

Despite having had Hazmat and the Environmental Protection Authority check his house, no one is claiming accountability for the oily mess.

Living so close to the river Dean said he can only guess how much of the oil went into the Richmond River.

His house has been deemed structurally sound but because of oil sludge it is contaminated and he isn’t allowed to get in and clean it yet.

Other houses north of the sugar mill have the same toxic spill left in their homes.

Dean is considering contacting a solicitor about the situation.

He is clearly under pressure. He has to leave the Illawong hotel in Evans Head where he has been staying because the room is booked.

“I got a letter saying I have to move because of holiday makers,” Dean said.

Service NSW has offered him a small hotel room in Brisbane without cooking facilities and no outdoor area.

He is desperately seeking somewhere closer to home to stay. Or he’d like to find a caravan or motorhome he could stay in while he sorts out the mess that is his home.

Dean has few possessions. When the water rose two metres within an hour on Tuesday morning, he didn’t have time to grab anything.

“I was woken at 7am that morning. By 8am I had lost everything and was in a boat,” he said.

He climbed out of his front window into the SES rescue boat.

When he returned to his home, he wasn’t allowed inside.

After much pleading, the EPA kitted him out in a protective suit and helmet and he was allowed to enter his home for ten minutes to grab some personal items.

“I got a few photos,” he said of the possessions he had piled on his bed during the floods.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to live in Australia,” he said of the help and money offered for emergency accommodation.

You have to do stuff yourself though, he said.

The agencies want to move him to Brisbane.

He simply wants to go home and start the clean-up.

EPA responds

The Environment Protection Authority has done assessments on Broadwater homes with hydrocarbon contamination. Hydrocarbon includes oil, diesel and other fuels.

A specialist consultant is doing soil assessments and sampling from the yards of affected properties. The results of this testing will be provided to residents and used to decide remedial strategies.

The EPA has identified multiple likely sources of the contamination but are yet to announce those sources.

While many homes have already been cleaned up, the EPA is cleaning remaining houses as a matter of urgency.

The EPA is also conducting monitoring of waterways affected by the floods and is advising the community of any risks. 

It is recommend that water affected by diesel or oil is not consumed or used for any recreational or agricultural purposes. The community is encouraged to avoid contact with waterways if they are affected by pollutants.

The exterior of Dean Wilson’s house clearly shows the flood level.

If anyone can help Dean with accommodation, or a caravan email indynr.com@gmail.com

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