In light of the Tathra demolition and removal operation following last month’s bushfire, questions have been raised about the potential health hazards that this poses to the general public.
This is particularly pressing given that some of the houses due for demolition contain asbestos.
Fairfax approached the NSW Office of Emergency Management, which is responsible for coordinating the Tathra fire’s emergency response, with some of these questions and concerns.
How is asbestos handled during the demolition process?
As soon as the fire abated, (asbestos) air quality monitoring at four sites commenced. So far, all readings from this monitoring has resulted in nil positive results.
After the fire, the asbestos was made safe on all affected properties with the application of a PVA binder by a licensed asbestos contractor. Teams are on standby to re-spray properties should the PVA sealant be affected by rain.
Removal of asbestos-contaminated material will be undertaken by licensed asbestos contractors in accordance with EPA and SafeWork NSW requirements. These agencies will also supervise the asbestos removal, transport and tipping processes.
A number of sites have had sediment and erosion controls installed to minimise runoff. Impacted properties have also had temporary fencing and warning signs erected.
Who is responsible for the removal of domestic debris generated by the fires?
In most instances, contractors are being appointed by the relevant property insurer. Public Works Advisory will be coordinating asbestos removal for uninsured properties. Removal of asbestos-contaminated material will be undertaken by licensed asbestos contractors in accordance with EPA and SafeWork NSW requirements.
How long will the demolition take and how much debris will the demolition generate?
This depends on the size of properties and whether the property has asbestos contamination. It is anticipated demolition works will take up to seven days for each property. The NSW Government has waived the five-day waiting period for notified asbestos removal work to allow the immediate clean-up of fire impacted properties.
Approximately 20,000 tonnes from the damaged and destroyed houses will be generated, not including green waste.
Can I do any demolition myself?
No. A licence is required to conduct certain types of demolition work.
How will the debris be transported to the Eden Waste Depot and how is asbestos handled and managed during this process?
In accordance with SafeWork NSW and NSW EPA requirements, contaminated material will be transported in sealed, plastic-lined trucks by licensed asbestos contractors.
What route will the transport vehicles take?
The designated traffic route is still being finalised with Bega Valley Shire Council, Public Works Advisory and the NSW EPA. Public safety and minimising impact on the community are a priority.
When the material arrives at the depot, how is it managed/handled? Who is responsible for this?
Material will be managed by council operators under the instruction of a licensed asbestos environmental consultant. The material will be placed into a contained cell as required by the NSW EPA licence.
What happens to the material once it enters landfill? Are there any long-term risks to the environment and to the people who reside in the Eden area?
The risks associated with asbestos management are governed by best practice guidelines in the industry, as approved by EPA and SafeWork NSW. The Eden landfill is licensed to receive asbestos-contaminated material.
How will asbestos be managed at the Eden Waste Depot long term?
Asbestos will be encapsulated in a lawful landfill in accordance with EPA guidelines, preventing future disturbance and potential exposure pathways, to safeguard the community and environment.
For more information:
Recovery Centre 6499 2475; Bega Valley Council 6499 2222; Public Works Advisory 1800 959 444
The Office of Emergency Management has developed a fact sheet that covers these, and other questions on debris and clean-up. Visit www.emergency.nsw.gov.au