Government documents suggest construction of a new school within the state park will disturb long-buried toxic materials, affecting human health and local wildlife.

Plans to relocate the Frenchs Forest High School to a former waste dump site risk disturbing toxic materials that could contaminate local waterways and the downstream Manly Dam and present a health threat to children at the school, conservationists have warned.

Government documents obtained by a local community group show the site may contain elevated concentrations of heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), asbestos and other contaminants.

The NSW Government is expected to soon announce the relocation of the school to the ‘Aquatic Reserve’, within the Manly Warringah War Memorial State Park, so the existing campus can be turned into a new French’s Forest town centre and apartment complex.

A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education has previously said there was no educational need for the school to be relocated.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and local conservation group Save Manly Dam Catchment Committee (SMDCC) fear the construction of a new school within the state park will disturb long-buried toxic materials, affecting human health and local wildlife.

“We are worried disturbance of the toxic material could contaminate waterways and the much-loved Manly Dam – sometimes described as the last place in Sydney where you can swim in unpolluted fresh water – and pose an unacceptable health risk to construction workers, visitors to the dam and schoolchildren,” said Malcolm Fisher from the local Save Manly Dam group.

“This area features some of the last remaining pockets of a specific endangered vegetation type, known as Duffy’s Forest Ecological Community. The number one threat to this ecosystem is loss and fragmentation of habitat through clearing.

“We call on the Government to consider another site for the school – there are alternatives – to avoid the risk of irreversible environmental damage and risks to human health.”

ACF Nature Campaigner, Jess Abrahams, said the school move was indicative of a wider problem.

“This is emblematic of the piece-by-piece, cut-by-cut, decision-by-decision decline of Australia’s natural spaces that has led to the fragmentation of our bushland and a national extinction crisis,” he said.

“The area is home to the vulnerable Eastern Bentwing Bat and other threatened species such as the Red-crowned toadlet, the Eastern pygmy possum, Powerful owl, Rosenberg’s goanna and the Glossy black-cockatoo. The Climbing Galaxias, an ancient freshwater fish, which lives in local waterways, is not found anywhere else in the entire Sydney Basin.

“Australia desperately needs strong laws that protect nature in local and national decisions.”

This threat to the Manly Dam catchment and surrounding bushland is the latest in a long history of destructive encroachments on this important but under protected urban bushland.

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