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Manus Island: leaked report reveals hazards of processing centre expansion

Construction on Manus Island

Construction supplies arrive at the Manus Island processing centre. Photograph: AAP


Powered by article titled “Manus Island: leaked report reveals hazards of processing centre expansion” was written by Paul Farrell and Oliver Laughland, for on Tuesday 4th February 2014 06.45 UTC

Plans for a massive expansion of the Manus Island processing centre carry extreme risks of exposure to hazardous materials, asbestos and unexploded ordnance, as well as high risks of environmental and heritage damage.

Detailed planning documents of an expansion for an extra 2,000 asylum seekers and 800 staff at the offshore processing centre in Papua New Guinea reveals the development could pose significant risks to the local environment, asylum seekers and nearby residents.

Guardian Australia has obtained a leaked design report and preliminary environmental impact statement commissioned by the Department of Immigration. The reports were undertaken by Sinclair Knight Mertz and provide a detailed analysis of the construction and operational risks of the new facility.

The risk of unexploded ordnance, which could include munitions, bombs or mines, was so great that a full site survey could not be completed to determine the full extent of hazards at the facility.

The most serious risks listed in the environmental impact assessment include:

  • No hot water supply for asylum seekers’ accommodation and amenities areas. Staff areas will be provided with hot water.
  • The preparation of the massive site will require the clearing of five hectares of “currently largely vegetated areas with areas of significant secondary lowland rainforest” and “significant species”.

The assessment makes a series of recommendations to minimise waste hazards, heritage losses and environmental damage. Construction of the new facility has already started.

It can also be revealed the project has been fast-tracked by Australia’s Department of Environment. In December the department made a ruling that the development would not have a significant environmental impact and did not have to go through a more rigorous approval process.

The ruling also means that the development is only subject to the recommendations in the impact assessment, which Pauline Wright, the chair of the NSW Law Society’s environmental planning and development committee, said was concerning because there were limited requirements for asbestos disposal and removal.

A spokesman for the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said: “The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is working in collaboration with the government of Papua New Guinea on the expansion of facilities at Manus Island.

“The department’s contractors have instigated measures to address a range of hazards and environmental risks identified in the reports.”

Hazardous waste and soil contamination

The report highlights the risks of triggering unexploded ordnance and exposure to hazardous asbestos.

There is little research on the extent of asbestos contamination in Papua New Guinea and the report considers there to be an extreme risk to the presence of fragmented and fibrous asbestos. It also says there were “large stockpiles” of an “unknown white substance” found in areas where the development is occurring.

The presence of unexploded ordnance is also considered a high risk and means that a full site survey cannot be undertaken in some parts.

“The presence of Unexploded Ordnance [UXO] is considered to be likely. UXO detonators can contain products such as lead azide and mercury fulminate, which can leak heavy metals thereby contaminating soil,” it says.

“A fauna assessment was not undertaken during the site visit [because of] constraints relating to the presence of unexploded ordnance and flooding, as well as the limited time available.”


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