Diesel poison leaves inner west fuming

June 8, 2011 11 Comments

Peter Knight
June 8, 2011 The Age

Imagine 7000 huge trucks roaring past your front door every day.
ON JUNE 27, the residents of Yarraville and the inner west celebrate a dubious anniversary. Ten years ago on that day, the Environment Protection Authority measured air quality on the now notorious, Francis Street. This was in response to concerns voiced by residents about the levels of truck traffic and associated diesel fumes that had increased exponentially following the completion of the Western Ring Road and CityLink in the 1990s.

The number of trucks using Francis Street had increased to the point where it was, and remains still, blighted with about 7000 trucks every day. Many of these trucks exit the West Gate Freeway and use Francis Street as a short cut to the port; many more head to the port from container terminals just west of Yarraville and use the entire length of the street as a rat run.
Nearly all could access the port more quickly using the Bolte Bridge, but won’t because transport companies and drivers don’t want to pay tolls. This is having a devastating impact on the residents of Francis Street and other streets in the inner west.

Yet many Melburnians who have not been to the area still imagine it as part of an industrial zone adjacent to the port, and wonder why people have been complaining about the issue for so long. This image is far from the truth. Francis Street is a residential street lined on both sides with houses for most of its length. It also features a childcare centre and community centre, and has a primary school within a stone’s throw.
To imagine what life is really like for residents, you have to imagine waking every morning to a queue of trucks metres from your house filling two lanes and sometimes stretching for 300 metres, blowing black smoke as they edge their way towards the port.
You have to imagine not being able to get your car out of the driveway to take the kids to school because of this slow-moving wall. You have to imagine not being able to hang your washing out because it gets covered in black soot, and not being able to sleep properly at night for the roar of engine brakes and the clanking of trailers. And you have to imagine wondering whether these trucks are causing your child’s asthma.
The picture I paint is a daily reality for thousands of residents in the inner west, and in the 12 years I have lived in the area things have slowly worsened. At times the pollution is genuinely choking and this is reflected in the measurements taken by the EPA in 2001, which revealed some of the highest levels of diesel pollution ever recorded in Australia.
These levels regularly breach the EPA’s own intervention points and would lead to prosecution were they produced by a factory. At the time they were taken, they did lead to a flurry of activity by the Bracks government, which implemented night truck curfews.
But when the EPA returned a year or so later to conduct repeat air testing it found that the curfews, while helping to reduce truck numbers at night, had little effect on overall diesel pollution levels.
It might be expected that, armed with this information, the EPA would make a fuss, pressure government to fix the situation, and look into the possibilities of legal action. It would be reasonable to expect it to do the job it is charged with – protecting the environment.
The EPA has not acted and now 10 years have passed. And in that 10 years, nothing has been done about the trucks on Francis Street and Somerville Road, the trucks in Footscray, the trucks that arrive in ever increasing numbers and which are poisoning the inner west.
Should anyone think that that’s a little over the top, consider what we know about diesel pollution: the EPA itself says that there is ”no safe level of exposure to diesel fumes” and international studies suggest that diesel pollution contains the most carcinogenic substances known to man. The studies also suggest that the effects of diesel are most harmful to children. In addition, the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group commissioned a health impacts study in 2005 and found asthma rates for people living on Francis Street could be three times higher than those of other Melburnians.
A glimmer of hope for residents did appear a couple of years ago when the Brumby government, goaded by transport adviser Sir Rod Eddington, committed to building West Gate on/off ramps.
This measure would provide an alternative route for trucks needing to access the port and would take most of the traffic off Francis Street. It would also solve problems on Somerville Road and other affected streets, and is a solution that everyone appeared to agree on. Even the then shadow transport minister, Terry Mulder, seemed to support it. Disappointingly, he not has mentioned it since the election and has refused to meet with resident groups.
Even more disappointingly the EPA, which should be protecting, caring for and improving our environment, does nothing. It has never returned to conduct repeat air testing, has never issued a fine and has never made a public statement condemning this situation.
After so many years of government inaction, shelved studies and schemes that go nowhere, we need the EPA to stand up, show some teeth and say enough is enough.
Peter Knight has been a member of the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group for six years.

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11 responses to "Diesel poison leaves inner west fuming"

  • Peter says: (Edit)

    Frances Street, Really Frances Road-by definition of use, may have houses, however it is right next to the Port of Melbourne, and in between the Port and the Westgate freeway. If anyone buys a house there, and is not expecting trucks, needs to open their eyes a little more. It is common sense, that in peak hour trucks will get off at Millers road to avoid the mass of people heading into the city. I agree 100% that they should make an off ramp at Hyde St and ban trucks from Frances St, but I find it annoying that people seem to be able to move to this area of Yarraville, settle into a house, have kids, then notice that trucks are damaging their environment. The Trucks have always been there, People have (correctly) foreseen the increase in road transport, yet people still want to buy in this street/area. My best advice, Before you make an offer on a house, go there at different times of the day AND night, and check the quantity/type of traffic. If it is not your style, then the location of that house is not suitable for you.

  • Rico says: (Edit)

    @ Peter you are wrong. My neighbour bought his house in Somerville Rd in the 1950s and has lived their ever since, raised a family and cared for grandkids etc. Barely a truck drove down this street in those days. Bottom line, after countless years of empty promises that no politician has had the guts to fulfill, its quite clear that no-one in power has ever cared enough to stop the poisoning. In years to come the people with sicknesses will be sueing the Government, and they will care then. And so will you.

  • mark says: (Edit)

    Instead of ramps can they not look at a tunnel from the port? or moving it too rail? Building ramps over parkland seems like an idiodic solution. The last thing the west needs is more truck filled roads especially over what little green space we have.

  • Peter says: (Edit)

    Rico, The Article is in relation to Francis St Yarraville, NOT A street in Brooklyn. Melbourne population in 1950 was approx 1.3 Million, 2010 was approx 3.3 million, So of course there will be more trucks. I bet the sunshine in 1950 was brighter too...... Along with everything else. So, you plan to sue the Government, for pollution coming from the street you choose to live on, the street that is being "poisoned".... Along with the rest of Melbourne, so if you can sue, then everyone can sue = one bankrupt state, congratulations. You have a much better chance if you move to U.S.A, I recommend it for someone so litigious. Rico, Why don't you help yourself, and your friends in Brooklyn by lobbying the Government for particulate filters to be made compulsory on all heavy diesel vehicles? I believe our diesel is now clean enough, as many passenger vehicles are now coming in to Oz with these filters. Why not look outside your street, and steer your political efforts into making the whole of Melbourne (and the world) a cleaner place? You are being poisoned, because a truck has as much right to use your street as you do, and there is no regulation for 'clean' heavy diesel vehicles.

  • Mike says: (Edit)

    Out of order guys. Focus on the common enemy don't fall into the trap of turning on ourselves. The point is that nobody outside this group cares about the issues. The main problem is the ongoing skilled labour shortage in Australia. Consequently, Australia is running out of visionary statesmen. We only have self-serving career politicians to represent our interests. They are not going to upset big business, because big business provides them with future career paths. I said it before, we have to shame big business, politicians and senior bureaucrats into submission. You guys have been working hard at this for a very long time and I commend you for your efforts. But the nice-guy strategy just doesn't work. We need to create an alliance with the militant groups like the Socialist Alliance, Greens, opposition members etc. We need people who are experienced in digging up the dirt on important people. This is a power struggle in which the meek will never win. We need to recruit you activists who have the passion and time to engage in civil disobedient actions. Picket Lindsey Fox's home and burn a pile of tires in his driveway. Lindsey Fox loves polluting so he will see this action as a sign of solidarity. We need to place TRUCK POSTERS all around the suburbs to raise and maintain our public profile. Get the opposition to highjack parliamentary question time with these issues. I am not saying we should do all of these things, I'm saying we need to do things differently. We need a marketing campaign. Federal and State governments are now pushing their environmentally sustainable management practice policies onto business. We need to give the government the facts so that we force their hand in applying the legislation to the guilty parties. This website is fine for preaching to the converted but we need other ways to reach out to the general public and engage the youth. And Peter I would like to remind you that your comments about people buying property in Francis St echoes what John Fayne said to you at the time of the Francis St blockade. Remember that the pollution generated in Francis St does not stay in Francis St. I still believe that all of these road projects are a waste of time and money. The real issue is that the port needs to be relocated. The money generated from turning the docklands into a mini Sydney Harbour should more than adequately fund the relocation of the port facilities or maybe not. But we need visionary ideas to remove the problem and not just fiddling with the effects of the problem.

  • Roger says: (Edit)

    Peter: You seem to forget that the issue here is that there are thousands of trucks breaking curfews as well, they have NO right to use these streets. I don't think anyone has an issue with trucks coming from local depots. There is an obvious health risk to everyone in the area, trucks should not have to drive in residential streets and something needs to be done about it. Lets take away the trucks for a second and just look at the traffic alone, it's a nightmare and it's getting a lot worse.

  • Anthony says: (Edit)

    This problem is out of control and bigger than Francis Street and Yarraville. If you are worried about Francis Street look as far as Moore Street in Footscray. Trucks day and night and no curfews there, not as many trucks as in Francis Street, but this shows that there are simply too many trucks that have nowhere else to go and without any regulation they will continue to expand to other roads (I'm not sure where!). Footscray did not have the truck problem for years and it is too far from Yarraville anyway. The people that moved to the area (they are all not dodgy or drug dealers) have never had this issue, it is only until the last 3-4 years as trucks cannot travel at night on Francis Street, Moore and Buckley Streets are the new highways at night. The problem has moved as it is too big. In 10 years time Moore and Buckley Streets in Footscray will be the new Francis Street. Meanwhile the government continues to approve new apartment buildings to house thousands of people in Footscray with thousands of trucks on their door step. Even a Centrelink has been approved on the corner of Moore and Hopkins Streets. A fatality that will soon happen What a way of living! What a feeling!

  • Mike says: (Edit)

    Over the years it has become clear that you can't trust anyone. Even if the off-ramp is built, there is no guarantee that the trucks won't continue to use Francis Street. And if the off-ramp is built, Vic Roads will consider the matter closed and not police Francis Street for offending trucks. They don't do it now so they certainly wont do it in the future. So it is important that Francis Street be reduced to single lanes with 20 km/h speed humps and a residential speed limit of 50 km/h. Traffic circles at each intersection would also serve as a further deterrent for truck drivers. Again I ask where are the Greens? Bob Brown put your money where your mouth is!

  • colleen hartland says: (Edit)

    Hello Mike, the Greens are were we have always been on the issue of trucks on our residental roads, standing with MTAG and the local community, asking questions in parliament, turning up at rallies and photocoping flyers etc. Now that we have a Greens Senator for Victoria, I will ask MTAG to brief Richard Di Natali on the issue. Mike I am happy for you to ring me on 96896373 to discuss these issues. Colleen Hartland Greens MLC Western Metropolition Region

  • Aaron says: (Edit)

    One of the biggest problems I see with all this, is that everybody keeps voting Labor in yarraville!! Labor are clearly not helping, nor Liberal for that matter either. Labor don't need to do anything because it is a safe seat, and Liberal won't do anything because nobody votes for them in Yarraville. The only way out of this is to get rid of the safe Labor seat, and create a marginal seat, or at least an upset. Maybe have a good Independent to stand to voice our views. Start the campaign trail now and build a higher profile. If everyone knows who the Local Independents are and what they are standing for, we all might be more inclined to vote for them, Currently I couldn't tell you who any of them are or what they stand for. I only find out at election time when the flyers come out. If the Social Alliance, Greens etc Mercanaries are bought on board, then I like a lot of other people will lose respect for MTAG as I don't think we need riots and baseball bats in our streets, just good governance by our local MP's.

  • Mike says: (Edit)

    The bottom line is that to become a politician, you have to be power hungry and self-serving. They are not there to ensure good governance, they are there because I are driven by a need for power. Its dog eat dog. Unfortunately, none of the dogs see any merit in barking for us. Our cause wont give them more power and it wont lose them there power. There is nothing in it for them. We have two choices: 1) Turn this into a marginal seat. This wont happen because too many people still believe in the myth that the labor party is the party of the working class. And, the liberal party is not going to pour resources into a strong labor seat. Independents cant change anything unless they hold the balance of power in a hung parliament. And after the federal debacle, it is highly unlikely that it will happen in Victoria. 2) The other option is people power. Undertaking civil disobedience on an ongoing basis. Taking action by disrupting the traffic on an ongoing basis. Boycotting businesses who use trucking companies that foul up our streets. Picketing trucking company premises. Doing newsworthy things on a weekly basis. Take a leaf out of the Marfia's book, put a severed horses head in Lindsay Fox's bed. I don't know, I'm just trying to stir people up to think outside of the square. We have to do something to make people sit up and take notice. We live in a democracy so the government is there to serve the people. As we have seen in the former USSR, East Germany and the middle east, it is up to the people to take control if the government no longer serves the best interests of the people.