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Islington Railyards

Kilburn Railway Station

Islington rail yard clean up continuing

The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) is continuing testing and monitoring of groundwater and soil as part of the ongoing clean-up of the Islington rail yards site.

Frequently asked questions

How long has the contamination been present?

The contamination is historical in nature and arose from the use of  trichloroethene (TCE ) solvents at a former electroplating facility. It is likely that the contamination was caused progressively from the storage and handling of these solvents.  The source of the contamination has been identified and removed as part of the remediation works. The exact time of the release is unknown, however is likely to be in the early 1900s based on the understanding of the site history and the extent of the groundwater impacts.

What are TCE, PCE and DCE?

TCE and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) are common industrial solvents and were used widely as degreasers and metal cleaners. Dichloroethene (DCE) is generally present as the result of the degradation and breakdown of TCE and PCE.

For more information on the chemicals of concern, please refer to SA Health Chlorinated solvents in groundwater.

What is the problem posed by PCE, TCE and its breakdown products (DCE and vinyl chloride)?

The chemical substances found to be present in groundwater also have the potential to change from liquid to gas (vapour phase) and move through pore spaces in the soil to the ground surface. It is then possible for the vapours to further migrate and build up in confined spaces such as cellars, houses and basement car-parks. The risk posed by these chemicals in commercial/industrial properties and homes would be through long-term exposure.

Exposure can occur if the chemicals migrate through the soil pore spaces to the ground surface, and then find their way through crawl spaces, cracks and holes in the slab, floor or walls of the building. If ventilation is low, vapours may then accumulate within building spaces and be inhaled by persons in the building.

How did PCE and the other related chemicals get into the groundwater?

TCE and PCE and its breakdown products are liquid chemicals that readily flow and evaporate when released to the environment. Depending on how the chemicals were introduced to the soil, and the geology of the underlying soil and rock, it is possible that these chemicals migrated through the pores in the soil, dissolved in water and then flowed down gradient in the groundwater or became present through breakdown chemical reactions.

Liquid PCE and TCE are denser than water and will sink down through water until it reaches an impermeable barrier. In their pure forms they will then flow along preferential pathways via gravity or pool in confined areas. PCE & TCE that are dissolved in water will migrate with the groundwater in the general direction of groundwater flow. PCE and TCE vapour will move through soils via the path of least resistance and will decay over time. The TCE at the Islington site was associated with degreasing metal parts prior to electroplating.

How can contact with these chemical substances occur if they are in groundwater (bore water)?

Exposure occurs through using contaminated groundwater for drinking or cooking, and in showers, swimming pools and gardens (via ingestion, inhalation or through the skin). The contaminated groundwater is approximately 5-8m below ground surface.

Can I use bore water for any use?

It is recommended that residents and property owners in affected areas do not use bore water for any use until further notice. For example, the bore water in the area should not be used for drinking, irrigation or any other uses until further notice.

If you are outside the investigation area, you should still have your bore water tested. Even if these bores are not affected by industrial pollutants, bore water can be contaminated by other sources such as historical agricultural and horticultural activities and fuel storage. It is also possible for bore water to be unsuitable for use because of the presence of naturally occurring chemicals.

How can contact with these chemical substances occur if they are in groundwater (bore water)?

Exposure occurs through using contaminated groundwater for drinking or cooking, and in showers, swimming pools and gardens (via ingestion, inhalation or through the skin).  The contaminated groundwater is approximately 5-8m below ground surface.

Can I eat my fruit and vegetables?

If you have been watering your fruit and vegetables with bore water, the health advice is that you should not eat them until you have had your bore tested and it is deemed fit for use. SA Health issues a standard advice that bore water should never be used for drinking, cooking, watering edible plants or filling up swimming pools, unless it has been tested by a specialist laboratory.

Will my fruit trees be affected?

While mains water and rainwater tanks are not affected by groundwater contamination, caution is recommended with any fruit trees that may have roots that draw water from the aquifer.  In your area the depth of groundwater varies from approximately 5-8 m. Botanic Garden staff have advised the EPA of the following average root depths of the fruit trees:

  • cherry trees: root depth very shallow
  • citrus trees: root depth 30-50 cm (the top metre)
  • stone fruit trees: root depth 50 cm (the top metre)
  • avocadoes: root depth similar to citrus
  • mulberry/figs/pome (including pears and apples): root depth less than 2-3 metres but if a large tree the roots may be deeper
  • pecans/nuts: potentially extends below 4 metres
  • grape vines: have very long roots that are likely to travel to groundwater.

This information is based on plants being grown in soil conditions found in the domestic and agricultural environs. If you are concerned about your fruit tree(s), please contact the EPA.

Will bore water contamination affect my property value?

The presence of groundwater contamination will mean that bore water will not be able to be used from shallow aquifers at properties in the affected area. The EPA’s experience in managing other similar incidents of contamination is that property values were not affected.
It is possible that the EPA will in the future declare a bore water restriction zone. If this occurs, this information will be recorded against the certificate of titles of the properties in the affected area, to ensure that future purchasers of the property are aware of the restriction on using the bore water.

Has the redevelopment of the site affected the groundwater contamination?

DPTI has signed a long term lease with the developer that includes provisions to ensure that the redevelopment of the site does not affect the existing groundwater contamination.  As part of the redevelopment, residual soil contamination at the source has been removed and all stormwater at the site is contained and directed to the municipal stormwater system.  A long term monitoring network has been retained to allow ongoing monitoring and management of the existing groundwater contamination.