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Caught Out

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ON Tuesday, the Government's own confidential briefings confirmed it – yesterday morning they were denying it.

However by the afternoon came the admission. The impact of RiverCats on dioxin levels in the Harbour was never investigated.

Despite warnings from government scientists, waterways authorities failed to carry out an investigation into the effect of RiverCats on stirring up dioxin laden sediments in Parramatta River.

Yesterday the State Government admitted the NSW Maritime Authority had not launched a study, claiming the RiverCat issue was a "low risk".

This was despite a confidential ministerial briefing note from December 2005 released under Freedom of Information laws that revealed authorities believed the craft were churning up poisonous sediments in the Parramatta River.

Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald yesterday claimed there was no evidence of RiverCats having an impact – despite no study being carried out.

"The Harbour is used by thousands of vessels every day and there is no evidence to suggest any of these vessels are causing high dioxin levels in fish," he said.

"The high levels of dioxin in sediment in the Harbour system are not the fault of the RiverCats, they are the legacy of a century of industrial pollution."

The Government's own key scientists had believed testing of fish and prawns for the chemicals – which has now resulted in a fishing ban in the Harbour – should have found decreased levels.

They expressed alarm that the levels detected in November last year and again in February this year, were higher than or as high as levels detected more than a decade ago – when less was known about the danger of the chemicals.

"It was anticipated a decade and a half ago that clean sediment would progressively cover the dioxin-laden sediment in Homebush Bay and adjacent waters," the December 6, 2005, ministerial briefing note said.

"One agent of sediment dispersal that needs to be considered is the traffic of the RiverCats along the Upper Parramatta River. NSW Maritime would be responsible for assessing the role of these vessels in sediment translocation."

The study was never undertaken.

Opposition environment spokesman Michael Richardson said: "It is the failure by the Labor Government to clean up Homebush Bay that is the real cause of the high levels of dioxin in the Harbour.

"Unless the Government removes all the dioxins from the bay, the Government can't guarantee it will ever be safe to eat fish from the Harbour again.

"Nine years on the Government has only just started the work and is only planning to clean up half the dioxins."

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