Residents concerned over health impacts from contaminated gun club

    The former Sebastopol gun range, south of Ballarat, was shut down in early 2017. Credit: Bronze Wing Australia

    Landholders living near a gun club south of Ballarat say they have been left in the dark over potential health impacts from contamination.

    The Sebastopol Gun Club had been operating from the Marty Busch Recreation Reserve for 63 years, but an EPA investigation last year linked lead contamination in neighbouring areas to the club, and the club was shut down.

    Local resident Leeanne Eaton said she had been shocked to see signs erected along a popular walking trail at the bottom of the range, warning the public to avoid the area. She said the sloping range had been used as an adventure playground by local children for years. “I want to know what are the ongoing risks to us. I want to know what the risks are for my children who used to play there and make a game of collecting the clay targets,” Ms Eaton said.  “And now with all these contaminated land signs around, what is going to happen with the value of our homes?”

    Decision pending on how to clean up site

    The EPA investigation in October confirmed the contamination was lead from lead shot and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a chemical found in clay targets. South-west regional manager Carolyn Francis said the gun club had until December 15 to provide a detailed report on the extent and level of contamination. Decisions would then be made on how to clean up and manage the site. “This is the first step in what will be a thorough process, and will take some time to complete,” she said. “While this investigation work is underway, the site restrictions will remain in place.”

    Club’s financial position makes requirements challenging

    Gun club secretary Neil Haydon said the club was not in a financial position to comply with the EPA’s requirements. “There is no doubt that we would be dependent on applying for and obtaining funds from the State Government to undertake any investigation,” he said.

    In 2015, the club received a $35,000 State Government grant to help redevelop the club’s facilities.  Mr Haydon said the steepness of the range, which drops down to the Yarrowee River, had made it hard to manage. “The topography of the land was difficult in terms of shot management and reclamation,” he said.

    Budget allocates funds to clean up gun club sites.

    The City of Ballarat recently fenced off the area, erected warning signs and resurfaced the public pathway along the river.

    Head of infrastructure Terry Demeo said he would meet with the gun club to discuss the club’s position. The council is also looking for a new home for the club, likely to be part of a broader target-sports centre that had appropriate buffers from housing and waterways.

    A spokesperson for Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said $3 million in last month’s budget had been allocated to the remediation of several gun club sites across the state.

    The EPA began investigating outdoor shooting ranges after contamination was discovered at the North Wangaratta Recreation Reserve in May last year.   The EPA’s website states a number of PAHs are classified as carcinogenic and can be absorbed via ingestion, inhalation or skin contact, while lead exposure can happen by ingesting contaminated soil or dust or drinking contaminated water.