The slow road to recovery has begun for Stony Creek as the fall-out from the West Footscray fire continues to plague the inner west.
Toxic chemicals and firefighting foam flooded the creek late last month as crews battled to extinguish the out-of-control warehouse fire, killing thousands of fish, eels and other marine life.
Hundreds of people responding to a survey by western suburbs Greens MP Huong Truong in the wake of the fire reported health impacts including migraines, nose bleeds and sore throats.
The state government last week allocated $1 million to help Melbourne Water and the EPA with clean-up and monitoring, as concerned residents rallied on the steps of Parliament calling for more urgent action.
After pumping out more than 70 million litres of contaminated water, Melbourne Water this week began the laborious task of pressure washing banks and rocks to remove contaminated material and affected vegetation and soil.
Warnings remain in place for people and animals to avoid Stony Creek and Cruickshank Park in Yarraville, a situation that has devastated children and educators at Clare Court Children’s Service, situated near the bank of the creek.
Service director Sharon Jordan said detailed information has been impossible to find and messages around health and safety have been contradictory and confusing.
“Our children are in and out all day and it has been really challenging getting information about whether it is safe to be outside,” she said.
Ms Jordan said the service was hit hard by the contamination as the park and creek are central to the fun and learning for the 300 children who attend the service.
“Since the fire we haven’t been able to go out to the park and the creek,” she said.
“The children have been saddened as they have built strong relationships with the environment.”
Ms Jordan said the children were putting out fresh water for birds and wildlife impacted by the creek’s contamination and hatching their own ideas to help the creek recover.
“As adults we can forget to look at what children are going through,” she said.
“It may be a long time before we see and hear pobblebonk frogs back here, but we want to be part of a concerted effort to support their return.”
Maribyrnong council chief executive Stephen Wall has promised to include the service’s input in the recovery plan for Stony Creek.
The council has become the lead agency in the recovery process, exposing it to mounting recovery costs.
Mr Wall said most costs have so far been absorbed within existing council budgets, but the financial hit could substantially escalate.
“While it is difficult to estimate the costs going forward, we will seek funding from state government,” he said.
Investigations into the cause of the fire are continuing.