Concerns over govt-owned site in Earlwood contaminated by asbestos

Concerns over govt-owned site in Earlwood contaminated by asbestos

Inner-west residents of the Sydney suburb of Earlwood are claiming government “negligence” after it was revealed that asbestos sheeting was left uncovered and accessible to the public on a government-owned lot in the suburb for months. 

The Department of PLanning and Environment was first notified of asbestos at the site in July last year. According to the ABC, who sent an enquiry to the department, it was accessible to the public up until the letter was sent. 

Residents are concerned that people could have stumbled upon the material and inadvertently been exposed to the hazardous material without realising the risks it carries. 

According to information obtained under freedom of information, the department had repeatedly been advised by a consultancy company that it hired that the site contained either bonded or non-friable asbestos. More than nine months since the department was advised of the presence of asbestos at the site, it is still accessible to the public via a bushwalking track. 

The consultancy company recommended that the government implement a plan to mitigate any potential risks under workplace health and safety regulations. They noted that they “did not identify the potential for gross or widespread contamination on site”. 

The plan developed by the consultants was finalised in October, with the aim of protecting the “health of current and future site users, contractors and visitors”, and also stated that the government “must” isolate adequately sign any asbestos-impacted areas with signage, flags or fencing, or cover the affected area. 

One neighbour who spoke to the ABC, Johan Palsson, said that the inaction of the government department was “negligence. They’ve left something that we know has huge impacts to health, lying around in a field less than 200 metres from my front door,” he said. 

He noted that the area is popular with families with children and noted that there is concern among residents that young people could have unknowingly disturbed the asbestos. 

SafeWork NSW has said that it is “making enquiries into potential asbestos management issues” at the site. It is worth noting that following the enquiries from the ABC, workers had attended the site and installed warning signs about asbestos, erected a fence to keep people out and covered the affected area. 

A department spokesperson said “a licensed specialist environmental contractor” was being engaged to dispose of any non-friable asbestos, “after a small area at the rear of one of the three lots was found to contain some pieces”. 

The spokesperson said the work was expected to be completed in the coming weeks, adding that the Environmental Protection Authority, had “been satisfied the necessary steps to manage contamination and secure the site” have been taken. 

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