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Ex-servos require clean-up

Firemen and ambulance remove the body of a man killed in the explosion in the basement of the center cinema.

Firemen and ambulance remove the body of a man killed in the explosion in the basement of the center cinema. Photo: Archive

A deadly cinema explosion almost four decades ago is partly responsible for the scores of seemingly abandoned service station sites around Canberra.

Measures surrounding the remediation of petrol stations were introduced after the death of a man in the basement of Civic's Center Cinema in February 1977.

Reports at the time said petrol and vapours had been leaking into the cinema and petrol had been seen on the surface of water at the scene of the explosion, which killed 41-year-old Colin Mills.

Caltex service station at Cooleman Court Weston Creek. Click for more photos

Unused service stations in the ACT

Many of the ACT's unused service stations have been approved and will commence redevelopment in 2013. Photo: Jay Cronan

Investigations were made at two nearby petrol stations, but neither was confirmed as the source of the petrol.

Environment Protection Authority head Daniel Walters said the incident was part of the reason that rules for site remediation around Australia changed.

Fixing former service stations can be expensive and lengthy, resulting in sites left seemingly untouched to onlookers for months or even years while pollution is eliminated.

Mr Walters said the process could be particularly protracted if fuel leaked into the groundwater, leaving a film of petrol on top, as observed at the Center Cinema.

''That's why service stations can take quite some time, if they've got ground water problems. Those sites can be quite expensive and problematic.''

More than 20 service stations have closed down across Canberra in recent years, according to the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate.

Mr Walters said the EPA had been involved in remediating the numerous ''brown field'' sites, which had to undergo assessment, remediation and an audit.

He said developers generally only undertook the process when the value of land had overtaken the costs of remediation.

''You have to assess the level of contamination that remains at the site, in the soil and in the groundwater,'' he said. ''If the site has been reasonably well managed, they'll often find the level of soil contamination can be dealt with on site with land farming.''

Well-managed sites could take as little as 12 months to remediate, but Mr Walters said others could take years if fuel had leaked into groundwater, requiring numerous bores to draw liquid and vapours.

''If they go wrong, the costs are exorbitant,'' he said. ''I would imagine if you talk to the developers, they don't see brown field sites as goldmines.''

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