Chemical weapon contamination fears surface in Australian suburb

Residents of Maribyrnong, a suburb northwest of Melbourne, Australia, are raising concerns that the ground may be contaminated with chemical agents from a former Australia Defense Force site that used to reside there.

Chemical agent tests are underway in an area slated for a 3,000 home estate. The housing development will be created on the same spot as a munitions factory site that produced bombs and high explosives for nearly a century. The area will be tested for mustard gas and nerve agents over the course of the next 18 months, the Maribyrnong Leader reports.

The investigation comes after a discovery in late 2011 that the site was used for research into the defense against chemical weapons. The review also resulted from a discovery of mustard gas-filled artillery shells at a former Queensland military site.

Simon Thomas, a defense spokesman, said that only small quantities of chemical agents were handled for research purposes in the area.

"The work that is now being undertaken aims to assess whether any residual traces of chemical agents can be detected and, if so, steps will be taken to neutralize these," Thomas said, according to the Maribyrnong Leader. "The risk to people in adjoining properties is considered very low."

In 2010, the Australian government listed more than 120 toxic chemicals, some of which were known carcinogens, that were used at the site between 1910 and 1946.