Having owned a home for 33 years in one of Lismore’s lower areas, Marion Conrow is no stranger to flooding.
But on February 28, 2022, when more than 14 meters of water flooded the town of Northern Rivers, it was blinded by the dark, sticky oil that accompanied it.
Every surface and every wall inside his raised hardwood house was marbled with a bitumen-based product.
“It’s like a horror movie,” she said.
“Your eyes are crying [from] the fumes, bitumen, kerosene and god knows what else from the bitumen spill.”
Ms. Conrow lives close to an industrial depot belonging to the construction giant Boral.
The South Lismore site has supplied bitumen and asphalt but has been largely unused for the past two years.
Despite being in one of the city’s flood zones, several tanks remained in place.
As the floodwaters rushed in, the tanks were overturned, spilling substances into nearby homes.
Immediately afterwards, samples were taken from Ms Conrow’s home to find out exactly what the substance was.
Preliminary results emailed to her on March 18 said the “dominant compounds” were “kerosene, diesel and petroleum” and that she should “avoid continued living on the premises”.
She says Boral compensated her with a payment of $3,000, then $350 a week for three months to cover the rent. Marion has moved to a friend’s property where she says she has to walk 60 meters to get to amenities.
Boral Stakeholder Manager Kate Woodbridge apologized for the spill and said the company is “committed to remediating any individuals or businesses that were impacted by Boral tailings during the flooding. “.
Ms Woodbridge says Boral has been working “every day since the occurrence” to finalize “cleanup methodology” plans for the affected properties, but weather conditions and a shortage of tradespeople have contributed to the delays.
While remediation has begun at some properties, Ms Conrow says she is still awaiting news on when her home will be cleaned – and whether the oil on its walls poses a risk to her health.
“I don’t really want much, I just want my life, I want my house, and I really need to come home and get my life back on track,” she said.
Just a block from Mrs. Conrow, Jack Bobbin’s house and shed are marked with the same sticky residue.
The 82-year-old says he has had no contact from Boral and has already started cleanup work.
Mr Bobbin believes that when the company ceased operations at its South Lismore depot, it should have removed the tanks containing the products used to build roads.
“They didn’t clean up the site. They should have checked before they left. Obviously they didn’t,” he said.
Neighbor Geoff Davis, whose elderly mother’s windows remain oil-smeared, feels the same way.
“Take your things with you when you go. Don’t leave them. Don’t leave them there and no one will have this problem,” Davis said.
Boral and Lismore City Council, as the regulator, say the company has followed all relevant regulations.
“We are able to store material on site under our consent through the council and as part of our development request, so all material has been stored in an appropriate reservoir,” said said Mrs. Woodbridge.
Council chief executive John Walker could not say how often the site was inspected.
“Things will always go unnoticed,” Mr Walker said.
“Whether they should or not, I guess what we’ve found out over time, but it’s not our job to police the people who check every industrial property in the local government area to make sure everything is compliant. .”
Mr Walker says an investigation is ongoing and council has received two letters from law firms asking about the various parties’ involvement.
Boral also confirmed that it recently submitted proposals to the board to remove structures and equipment from the site.
Pending the ongoing investigation, Ms Conrow says she has no choice but to return to the site and live in a trailer.
“People asked me, ‘why are you going back?’ but where else am I going?” she said.
“There’s absolutely nothing around, I don’t have enough money to pay the rent anyway, and so a small trailer under the house is like my only option at the moment.”
In a statement, the NSW Environment Protection Authority says it has helped clean up three different spills of this nature resulting from recent flooding.
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