Bacchus Marsh Grammar has launched legal action against the Environment Protection Authority after it effectively paved the way for the dumping of PFAS-contaminated soil just metres from its main Maddingley campus.
In an October 29 affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, Principal Andrew Neal said parents had threatened to pull their children out of the P-12 school or had declined letters-of-offer because of fears the West Gate Tunnel contaminated soil would affect students.
He said the closest point of the schoolgrounds (37 South Maddingley Rd) to the boundary of the landfill (11 Tilleys Rd) was 220m.
The school wants a September 1 EPA decision to approve a Maddingley Brown Coal environmental management plan (EMP) to be made invalid, according to the document.
BMG is also seeking legal costs.
Mr Neal said in his affidavit that the EPA did not have the power to grant the approval because:
** The MBC EMP did not contain an appropriate report from an environmental auditor,
** The Tunnel Spoil Regulations do not give the EPA the power to grant “conditional approval of an EMP”,
** The EMP failed to include detailed designs and technical plans for the soil processing area.
Mr Neal said he had concerns about the potential impact of PFAS on young children – even at low levels – including damage to the immune system, hormone interference and raised cholesterol levels.
The affidavit also contained evidence of parents expressing fears about the soil:
## In a Facebook group for BMG mums, one posted: “I’m praying this does not go through! This is not good the school and more importantly, our kids’ health.”
## The affidavit also said that in March, Mr Neal’s assistant Michelle Graham received a call from a parent of children in Prep and Grade 2 stating that they would withdraw their children if the contaminated soil came to Maddingley.
## On 21 May, Registrar Shona Hiscock received an email from the parent of a child offered a Prep placement saying that “Unfortunately due to the impacts form the current economic environment coupled with the uncertainty of the ongoing toxic dumping debate, we will not be in a position to accept the offer.”
## The document also started that on June 19 another parent sent an email to the school saying:
“We are gravely concerned about the possible dumping of contaminated soil at Maddingley Brown Coal, metres from our school… We sincerely hope that the government and regulatory bodies will agree that dumping toxic soil in Bacchus Marsh is absurd and dangerous. If they do not, however, it will be with a heavy heart that we will have no choice but to withdraw (child) and (child) from BMG.”
## On 2 September, a day after the EPA approved the environmental management plan, several parents posted comments indicating they would pull their children out of the school on the ‘Bacchus Marsh says no to Toxic Waste’ Facebook page:
“We are concerned and thinking about pulling our daughters .. from BMG, but when we tried to enrol my girls in different secondary schools in the area, we quickly found out that there are no spots available anywhere. We are not taking State Schools into consideration. Therefore we are thinking of moving.”
## On 19 October Mr Neal received an email from two parents who expressed “complete despair” about the EPA approval and did not want to “gamble” their children’s health:
“We travel 40 minutes to send out children to BMG and now need to consider that unless that ridiculous decision is somehow overturned – or reinvestigated in greater depth and greater accuracy – it may just be better to withdraw our children from BMG…. Even if BMG were to relocate, timing would suggest that our children would be close to concluding their secondary school education and would have to be at the contaminated location for too long while the new location was established.”
## The same day, another parent sent a letter to Mr Neal saying:
“I am not satisfied that the measures such as dampening the soil will be effective in stopping the spread of the soil, particularly on the hot windy days we regularly have. Because the school is so close to the site, I am considering whether it is safe for my child to remain at the school.”
## On October 20, one parent said in a letter:
“Our two children only this year joined this tight-knit school community…In light of the Environment Protection Authority’s decision to grant a license to Maddingley Brown Coal to process Category-A toxic soil, my husband and I are now in the devastating position of having to reconsider our decision.”
## The affidavit also cited several examples of parents who had rung the school, asking that their children either delay transfer from the Woodlea campus to Maddingley, or not transfer at all due to the threat of the contaminated soil.
Mr Neal said another 50 parents had spoken to him personally, and virtually all were considering removing their children from Bacchus Marsh Grammar.
“I believe that the decision to allow Maddingley (Brown) Coal to receive and store contaminates tunnel soil at the landfill site has already adversely affected BMG’s reputation as a school where the health and safety of its students and employees is paramount,” he said.
If all 50 parents removed their children, he said the school – a not-for-profit entity and registered charity – would “conservatively” lose $1.25 million in revenue in 2022 alone.
He said it was possible as many as 200 students could go.
At this stage no date has been set for the matter to be heard in the Supreme Court.
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