Mercury in the Gippsland Lakes

As far back as 1980 state government scientists (J W Glover, G J Bacher & T S Pearce) identified that (the heavy metal) mercury has been accumulating in the Gippsland Lakes. Mercury sources include mining, discharges from Australian Paper’s Maryvale papermill and the fallout from burning coal in the Latrobe Valley. These scientists recommended that further investigation is required to determine the distribution of mercury throughout the lakes, and whether significant quantities of mercury are still entering the lakes or being discharged from the lakes.

In 1998 Dr Graham of the CSIRO in an audit of the Gippsland Lakes ecology made similar recommendations on the need to further investigate mercury in the lake chain. In 1999 G Fabris et al. identified a 58% increase in mercury in the flesh of Black Bream of the Gippsland Lakes. In 2007 nine dolphins were identified to have died of mercury poisoning. Over the next five years a further six of this newly identified dolphin species died which represents a 30% loss of the lakes dolphin population. Throughout this entire period right through to this day there has been no follow-up investigation.

Following extensive communication with the Department of Health (DoH), Foodsafe, Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) it appears that there is no monitoring of heavy metals in the Gippsland Lakes or the lakes catchment. Read DoH’s response to GEG raising these concerns – DoH letter (25 June 2012). The “literature review” mentioned in the DoH letter is a 2004 DPI in-house investigation into mercury in Lake Wellington.  GEG has been refused access to this document but consider it to be historic and not a control that the department would make judgment on regarding such a serious public health issue.

Would you trust these departments? Back in 2005 the DoH conducted fish studies in the Maribyrnong River only after the media revealed high levels of (heavy metal) Arsenic is leaching into Port Philip Bay. The EPA did not undertake tests on fish and the last time it tested for Arsenic was back in 1970’s. Check out: The Age – Arsenic Leaked Into River (22 August 2005). According to a 2001 report by consultant Peter Ramsay the EPA has been concerned about arsenic levels in the Maribyrnong since the 1990s. In 1995 it received a report showing arsenic leaching at about 3000 times the standard. “The EPA should have tested the river and fish downstream”, said Andrea Hinwood, an environmental scientist and arsenic expert at Edith Cowan University. “If those levels are going into the river, as a precautionary approach they should do the testing and provide people with some certainty that it’s OK. Those are very high levels.”

Are these government departments doing their job? Are they safeguarding us from the risks associated with consuming heavy metals? Are they doing anything to monitor and protect the environment? It seems not.

Read the full 1980 government scientific report:

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 1: Introduction, Study Area, Sources of Metals, Results & Discussion – 7.3Mb)

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 2: Sampling Methods, Analytical Methods, Conclusions, Recommendations & References – 4.1Mb)

Heavy Metals in Biota & Sediments of the Gippsland Lakes (Section 3: Appendices – 4.3Mb)