Ian Galloway Park History
Ian Galloway Park – The Facts among the Fairytales
(Published in the Northland Community Newsletter – September 2012)
If you live locally then you have probably heard Ian Galloway Park was Wilton Tip in its former life. You may have also heard that radioactive material from Victoria University was dumped at the tip in the 1960's. That alone is enough to make you question how dangerous the soil is at the home grounds of the West Rugby Club, and when you add the urban myths of infected cuts and sores not healing after playing at the sports ground, and stories of foul smelling gunk seeping through the soil you really do start to wonder if the grounds are safe.
So for all you rugby players and Kelly sport players, and for all those parents who wonder what toxic nasties are hiding under the soil at Ian Galloway here are the facts.
The Western Landfill, or Wilton Tip as it was known by, operated between 1946 – 1973. In 1964 the Wellington City Council approved the burial of the radioactive waste in Wilton Tip. The waste buried under Ian Galloway Park consists of three truckloads of furniture and equipment that was dumped following the discovery of radioactive contamination in Victoria University’s physics department.
In August 2005 The Listener published an article by Rebecca Priestley who was writing a PhD thesis on New Zealand’s nuclear and radiation history. She reported in her article Material Evidence that historically most of New Zealand’s radioactive waste was embedded in concrete and dumped in the Hikurangi Trench, just east of Cook Strait. The physics department waste from Victoria University was of such high volume and low radioactivity, however, that landfill disposal was preferred.
The total level of radioactivity associated with the material dumped in 1964 was 500 microcuries – about the same amount of radioactivity that could be found naturally occurring in 150 cubic metres of ordinary clay. However while organising the 1964 burial, the Dominion X-Ray and Radium Laboratory recommended that “arrangements should be made for the periodic collection of samples of groundwater flowing out below the rubbish tip”.
Rebecca's article also had the following statement from the National Radiation Laboratory “It is not likely to be harmful,” says the National Radiation Laboratory’s Jim Turnbull. “Most of the furniture will have decayed by now and the radium incorporated into the fill, where the radioactivity will be comparable to that of local soil.”
When Rebecca contacted the Wellington City Council in 2005 they were surprised to learn of the radioactive dumping. Obviously the advice from the Dominion X-Ray and Radium Laboratory had gone unheeded.
A thorough radiation survey of the park was performed by the National Radiation Laboratory in 2005. Paul Andrews, Wellington City Council Manager of Parks and Gardens said "The results of the survey have indicated that the ambient radiation levels are normal with no evidence of any areas contaminated with radioactive materials".
When questioned as to how and when the ground is tested he replied with the following statement. "Various testing and monitoring happens as part of managing the city closed landfills of which we have a number of. Most testing relates to monitoring any leachate that is produced by the landfill. This is to ensure it is not contaminating streams or natural water courses, we also monitor and test for methane gas and where required manage or control any gas produced.
The types of testing undertaken include none intrusive testing ( geophysical survey incorporating ground penetrating radar, electromagnetic and resistivity methods ) and intrusive investigations ( boreholes, soil, waste and water samples). The landfill and the landfill cap have been tested proactively and reactively for gas, total petroleum hydrocarbon, metals and species of infection.
From time to time some landfills do subside due to voids in the material used in the landfill or decomposition of material in the landfill. This subsidence requires the playing surface to be leveled again. This leveling has happened a couple of times in the last 10 to 15 years at the Park.
Based on samples tested, there is no indication that Ian Galloway Park is more likely to be an area of concern for ground users than the other parks (former landfills)
Paul also says "Most landfills are capped on the top with an impermeable layer of clay. This makes them challenging when managing as a sport field as no natural drainage exists and the topsoil is often shallow and of a poor quality. This often results in water logging in winter and ground closures. As far as Ian Galloway Park goes the Park is safe to use by the community and sport however it will have its limitation in winter. The field commonly referred to as the Cage, due to the perimeter fence surrounding it, is a high quality sand field with the majority of the playing surface not sitting over the landfill area."
It seems Wellington City Council, although belatedly, do regular and rigorous testing of Ian Galloway Park, above and below ground. Paul Andrews sent me all the information I needed the day following my email to him. They are satisfied there is no danger in the soil.
Rebecca Priestly was also satisfied that the total level of radioactivity would not be harmful. You can find her article here:
The parks namesake now has a reason to be proud. Ian Galloway was a former Director of Parks and Recreation.
Temporary roadway through Wilton Tip, Wellington, while the usual route along Wilton Road is straightened.
Photograph taken circa 24th May 1964 by an unidentified Evening Post staff photographer. ID: EP/1964/1698/3a-F