Ian Brown said the dangerous fumes were released when the fire burnt through Liddell’s Calcine Sands in the Regional Park in West Bendigo.
“With volatile things such as mercury and arsenic, they gas off,” Ian Brown said this week.
“When the fires went over, with areas that were heat-impacted this mercury and arsenic was gassed off and carried downstream with the (smoke) plume.
“They (firefighters) would have been breathing the fumes.
“Mercury is a suspected carcinogen, and arsenic a confirmed carcinogen.”
Mr Brown is the technical director of Hg Recoveries, which recently tested properties around the Liddell’s Calcine Sands site near Sparrowhawk Road.
He is also co-author of a paper on “Maternal transfer of mercury to the developing embryo/fetus” for a Toxicological and Environmental Chemistry journal.
He said mercury and arsenic is still “leaching out” of the Liddell’s site, which has been the subject of a long remediation planning process by Parks Victoria.
“When you start jumping up and down about the magnitude of the problem (of mercury and arsenic activity in contaminated gold-mining sites) people think you are mad,” Mr Brown said.
“But there are real and ever-present dangers to the people in that area, and also to anyone who comes afterwards.
“If this so-called remediation happens, that is not going to stop things migrating to the surface.”
Hg Recoveries’ managing director Andrew Helps and Mr Brown are working with the local residents’ group led by Paul Epworth to challenge the Parsons Brinckerhoff reports which are the basis for the remediation process planned for the Liddell’s site.
The company is also currently in dispute with the State Government over a proposal to recover mercury from the Upper Goulburn River catchment.
“It’s wrong from a chemistry point of view,” Mr Brown said of Parks Victoria’s remediation plan, which has been audited by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is a dirty, nasty clean-up being proposed.”
Mr Brown said the sands could be treated onsite in order to take out “a huge amount of lead and mercury”.
“That method is costly but it gives you a better environmental outcome and removes the existing problems,” he said.
Mr Helps said the CFA should be aware of the danger from fires that occur on calcine sands sites.
“The sands would have blown everywhere on Black Saturday,” he said.
“They would have been breathing in stuff you really don’t want to be breathing in.”
A spokesperson for the CFA said all their members know about smoke and dust risk and are issued with “personal protective clothing and equipment, including overalls and gloves and P2 filter breathing masks, which provide excellent protection from smoke and dust”.
The CFA did not respond to the Bendigo Weekly’s question about whether they warn members of particular safety concerns when fires burn in calcine sands areas.
Greater Bendigo council said this week they have been “applying pressure” to Parks Victoria and the EPA to resolve the calcine sands problem.
Council Planning and Development director Prue Mansfield said health risk assessments are the responsibility of those agencies.
“None of our staff have any expertise in this field, and so we cannot comment on the technical issues, like the off-gassing,” Ms Mansfield said.