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Sydney Harbour Clean-up Is Complex: Epa


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Sydney Harbour clean-up is complex: EPA

The NSW environment watchdog has defended its clean-up of Sydney Harbour on the grounds of the complexity of such a task.

But parts of the waterway will probably always be contaminated, it says.

NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam lambasted the state government for the continuing high levels of pollution west of the Harbour Bridge, particularly at Homebush Bay.

Mr Debnam's salvo came almost a year after the entire harbour was closed to commercial fishing due to dangerous amounts of dioxins found in fish.

The opposition leader pledged $40 million to clean up the western end of the harbour if wins government at the March state election.

Mr Debnam said the funding comprised the $20 million already promised by the state government plus $15 million to be spent in the Homebush Bay area and $5 million at the Camellia industrial site, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Environment Protection Agency (EPA) executive director of operations Joe Woodward told ABC Radio the history of the former Union Carbide pesticide factory at Homebush Bay and the scale of contamination had slowed the clean-up.

Union Carbide effectively abandoned the site and the government had to find developers willing to pay for a $200 million clean-up of the land, he said.

The land had to be completely treated before government-funded work could start on the sediment, otherwise pollutants would continue to contaminate it.

"The sediment clean-up is actually starting now, it's been through a complex approval process ... and that should be completed in the next year or so," Mr Woodward told ABC Radio.

"This is a major contamination and a major clean-up. It's been taking a while but it will be quite excellent once it's been finished."

Mr Woodward defended the pace of the operation, saying that in most parts of the world polluted sediments were often left, due to the difficulty of cleaning up so much thinly spread material.

The high dioxin levels in Sydney Harbour's fish, however, prompted the government to draft in top scientists from the US EPA to work out how to most cost-effectively clean up Homebush Bay.

"We'd love to see it done much faster but the trouble is it's very complex," Mr Woodward said.

The land stage of the clean-up at areas like the Camellia industrial site and Iron Cove had taken place, clearing the way for sediment decontamination to begin, he said.

Mr Woodward said the aim was to eventually lift the ban on fishing west of the bridge but "the jury was still out" on whether that could ever actually happen.

And, while the harbour compared favourably to the world's other waterways, it would never be spotless, he said.

"Sydney Harbour is cleaner than most other harbours around the world but there will always be some contamination there, as there is in many other harbours," Mr Woodward said.

"What we are doing is making sure that the most affected areas are cleaned up."

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