TRAPPED BY THE TUNNEL
Hundreds of local peninsula residents are campaigning against the proposed smokestacks planned by the NSW government near homes and schools across the Northern Beaches.
Leaked architectural designs show six proposed unfiltered smokestacks that will emit noxious car fumes from two, almost 7km six-lane underground tunnels - the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link tunnel. These passageways are set to run from Razelle to the peninsula.
Two smokestacks - between 20 and 35 metres tall - are proposed for Judith Street in Seaforth and Serpentine Crescent in North Balgowlah - a stone's throw from Seaforth Public School and Balgowlah Boys' Campus of the Northern Beaches Secondary College.
North Balgowlah residents Candice and James Trude live directly opposite a proposed stack with their one-month-old daughter, Charlie, and are devastated.
"We're horrified a smokestack could be spewing out pollution here," Candice says, visibly upset. "We only bought our house in January and James sold his business so we could afford it. Not only are we terrified about the health effects but we're trapped financially, too."
The World Health Organisation classifies diesel exhaust fumes as a Class 1 carcinogen, which can cause cancer, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and can permanently decrease lung growth in children.
Former Wahroonga anaesthetist Dr Ray Nassar, who moved north side in 2015 when he discovered his house would be within 500 metres of a NorthConnex stack, tells Peninsula Living, "The concern is that the pollution of particulate matter will increase in the communities surrounding these stacks, especially over time, because they will omit pollution 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"The health effects are cumulative, so the more exposure you have, the more dangerous it is. The evidence points to the fact that there is no safe threshold, which is worryingly comparable to asbestos.
"There is also new, evolving medical evidence that suggests there may be an association with things like autism, diabetes, obesity and dementia."
As then-Shadow Transport Minister premier, Gladys Berejiklian went to the 2007 election with a transport policy promising to filter the M5 and Lane Cove tunnels. The policy listed that it was 'grossly negligent' not to do so.
"We want to hold her to her promise," says local lawyer, Georgina Taylor, who is heading up the Northern Residents Tunnels Action Group Facebook group.
"Obviously, we already have pollution," she says, "but these are government projects, and to deliberately add more is diabolical."
The Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) denies filtration would make any difference, with a spokesperson saying, "Ventilation outlets are designed to effectively disperse emissions high in the air where it is diluted, with negligible impact on air quality - similar to other tunnels in Sydney including Lane Cove Tunnel, the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Distributor.
"Based on this design, as well as from existing research, filtration would not provide any measurable improvement to the air quality in the surrounding communities. An 18-month trial conducted in 2010 on filtration technology in the M5 Tunnel showed filtration has a negligible effect on air quality.
"For this reason, it has not been used in Australian tunnels and is rarely used overseas.
"But Ms Taylor hits back saying, "The length of the tunnels is the issue, as the RMS has never built tunnels this long. Given that this is the 21st century and similar countries have long urban road tunnels this length that are filtered - like the Calle 30 tunnels in Madrid and the Yamate tunnels in Tokyo - why aren't we? Are our kids not as important as theirs? It's either wilful ignorance of what is happening overseas, or knowing they can get away with it, because Australia hasn't got strong enough environmental regulations. There hasn't been a measurement standard on ultra-fine particles yet."
Education Minister and Pittwater MP Rob Stokes, says, "As I understand, it's a long way from a DA application but if the final modelling is one that would create additional health risks to school communities, I wouldn't support it."
The RMS spokesperson says the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link project is in the early stage of planning, and no decision has been made on the location of tunnel portals, work sites or permanent operational structures.
"The projects are at the concept design stage," he adds.
"As with any transport project of this scale, the proposal will be subject to a rigorous and comprehensive environmental assessment process, which would include detailed analysis of any potential impacts and extensive community consultation."