An unprecedented amount of asbestos found during construction of Sydney road projects has blown budgets out and forcing the Berejiklian Government to scramble for extra funding from existing infrastructure projects.
One of the projects – the M4 Smart Motorway from Mays Hill to Lapstone – has uncovered so much asbestos that more than $70 million has been added to the estimated cost of the project.
There has also been some confusion between developers and the government as to the best way to treat the material, and how to inform the community about the options. The two options are to bury the asbestos under the road itself, with protective material, or to remove the asbestos to a licensed waste facility.
Former roads minister, Melinda Pavey, told residents near Penrith that the EPA preferred asbestos be maintained safely on-site at a project. “It is what the EPA wants us to do,” Ms Pavey said.
However, according to a note signed by Ms Pavey in October, the EPA’s “preference” is that asbestos is taken to licensed waste facilities, with a note that the EPA also “agrees” that on-site asbestos management is acceptable.
The Sydney Morning Herald obtained internal documents from the Roads and Maritime service, which recognised the increasing size and cost of the asbestos presence. It has been identified as a significant factor in blowing out the M4 project to $594 million.
The note says off-site disposal “is the most readily available option to consider and is the EPA’s preferred method of managing Asbestos Containing Material, costing approximately $350/t for transportation and disposal at a licensed facility”.
On-site “encapsulation” involves burying asbestos “within the road corridor under the road pavement,” and generally requires planning approval, in consultation with the EPA.
The note was signed by Ms Pavey on October 18, 2018. Two months earlier, Ms Pavey and the RMS told locals near Orchard Roads Public that encapsulating asbestos was the EPA’s preference.
“Although offsite disposal of the (asbestos) at a licensed waste facility is an option, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) prefers that efforts are made to maintain such material on road projects,” RMS said in a note to residents.
An RMS spokesman said costs associated with dealing with asbestos are factored into projects, but, “on some occasions, adjustments do need to be made to ensure the material is dealt with safely”.
“Before starting all road projects, the agency carries out extensive environmental investigations, including geotechnical ground sampling. Despite this work, determining the scale and scope of hidden asbestos is difficult,” the spokesman said.
RMS and “EPA is currently in discussions and developing appropriate messaging and communication materials about Asbestos Containing Material management on road construction projects.”