James Hardie asbestos waste contamination legacy

The Environment Protection Authority is working with the City of Parramatta Council and other state government authorities under the guidance of the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities to re-assess the risk of contamination at properties around the Parramatta local government area where James Hardie may have disposed of asbestos waste materials.

Work underway to manage contamination

The Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities Testing Reference Group (HACA TRG) is coordinating a reassessment of the asbestos contamination risk at sites previously identified as being former James Hardie Industries asbestos disposal sites. As part of this Testing Reference Group, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is working with the City of Parramatta Council and other state government agencies to re-assess the risk of asbestos contamination at properties around the Parramatta local government area where James Hardie may have disposed of asbestos waste material more than 30 years ago. 

In August 2017, this re-assessment process entered a sampling phase, where residential properties and public land identified as being in the immediate vicinity of legacy disposal sites (according to historical records and initial inspections) will be sampled.

The results of this sampling will be used to determine the extent of the contamination legacy and to develop a whole-of-government approach to managing this issue.

Testing updates

Private properties

The EPA is currently testing soils at a number of homes in Harris Park and Granville identified as being in the vicinity of potential James Hardie disposal sites (Priority sites).  The EPA has also supported City of Parramatta Council by undertaking sampling in some areas of public recreation and open space.  

Since November 2017, the EPA has been working with affected properties to manage any contamination.

If your property is included in the first phase of the current reassessment program, you may have already been contacted by the EPA. As the assessment program continues, you may be contacted. If you have not been contacted and you are concerned your property may be in an affected zone, you can contact the EPA by calling 131 555.

Council-owned parks and recreation areas

SEPTEMBER 2017: The City of Parramatta Council is testing council-owned spaces, including some parks, recreation areas and verges. More information about that assessment program is available from Council.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a term used to describe a group of mineral fibres that were historically used for a wide range of applications, including building materials. Asbestos was used widely as a building material in the 1960s and 70s but it was banned in 1988.

Asbestos comes in two forms: friable (loose fibres) and non-friable (bonded). Non-friable asbestos, is typically mixed with other materials like cement. It is the most commonly found in the built environment. Friable asbestos is more likely to become airborne and easily disturbed. It is friable asbestos that is more dangerous as it can be inhaled and ingested.

Information for property owners

Sampling at private properties

The EPA and council are currently working to assess and manage risk at potential legacy asbestos disposal sites.

If you are concerned that you live in or around a possible legacy asbestos disposal area and you haven’t been contacted by council or the EPA, please contact us on 131 555.

Asbestos management plans

If soil sampling shows there is asbestos present in soils at levels above national guidelines, an asbestos management plan will be enacted for that property. This plan will identify how asbestos will be managed or removed (where feasible), and how potential risks will be controlled.  This could include capping or turfing of landscaped areas. These interim measures are being fully funded by the NSW Government.

Contacts, support and advice

For questions about asbestos generally you can call the 1800 ASBESTOS number (1800 272 378) or email contact@safework.nsw.gov.au.

For information about this assessment program and about your property, you can call the EPAs Environment Line on 131 555.

Who is working on this?

The NSW Government takes the issue of asbestos safety very seriously and established the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities (HACA) to coordinate work to address potential asbestos contamination from James Hardie Industries legacy sites. The EPA, SafeWork, City of Parramatta Council and NSW Health are working to manage potential contamination in the Parramatta area.

Who can I contact if I have questions?

To find out more about asbestos generally you can call1800 ASBESTOS (1800 272 378). You can also visit www.safework.nsw.gov.au or www.asbestosawareness.com.au.

For information about this assessment program and about your property, you can call the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.

For questions about park or recreation areas, please contact City of Parramatta Council on 9806 505 or 1300 617 058.

What is the health risk from asbestos exposure?

Asbestos air monitoring results at private properties located on the former James Hardie Industries site near Parramatta were below detectable levels of asbestos indicating a low health risk. If your home is included in the re-assessment area, you will have been contacted by EPA or council, or received information in your letterbox.

Asbestos fibres that are breathed in pose a risk to health. However, breathing in asbestos fibres does not necessarily mean you will develop health problems. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease varies from person to person and depends on how many fibres have been breathed in, for how long, the type of fibre and the age of first exposure.

How can I reduce my risk of exposure?

Asbestos is not a risk if it is covered and undisturbed as only asbestos fibres that are breathed in pose a risk to health.

Background

In 2007, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) (which was at the time within the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water) was made aware of several sites containing bulk asbestos waste associated with manufacturing and waste disposal by the former James Hardie Industries. The sites are in Fairfield, Holroyd, Parramatta, Wingecarribee and Cumberladn (formerly Auburn and Holroyd) local government areas, in addition to the Sydney Olympic Park Authority site.

To identify the location of the disposal sites, notices were issued to James Hardie Industries under Section 77 of the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997. Information was provided on 47 potential asbestos disposal sites and the EPA determined that 27 sites required inspection and assessment of the contamination.

Between December 2007 and February 2008, the EPA conducted site inspections of the 27 sites. Of these, 11 sites showed no visible signs of exposed asbestos and 16 sites had asbestos identified, generally in small amounts in bonded form (e.g. broken asbestos sheets). None of the inspected sites were found to be a “significant risk” to human health or the environment, provided the sites remained sealed and undisturbed.

Several options for management of the contamination were investigated and it was determined that the most effective option was for the EPA to support local government management of the sites by conducting assessments and preparing assessment reports for all accessible sites.

The EPA prepared draft asbestos assessment reports with input from all relevant stakeholders and forwarded them to the relevant councils and the Sydney Olympic Park Authority in October 2009. The reports included recommendations for management of the contamination which had in principle support from NSW Health via the Sydney West Area Health Service. The reports were then finalised into a summary project report in April 2010, and forwarded to the relevant councils and the Sydney Olympic Park Authority to assist in the maintenance of council records on past land use and to ensure the presence of asbestos on these sites is considered in future land use planning approvals for these sites.

The current work is reassessing the 2007-08 findings after City of Parramatta Council identified traces of friable asbestos in the backyards of some residential properties in Parramatta. Friable asbestos had not previously been identified.

How asbestos is managed in NSW

Asbestos is managed by a number of state government agencies, as well as local government. The Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities (HACA) works to improve the management, monitoring and response to asbestos issues in NSW by developing coordinated prevention programs. The HACA Testing Reference Group is the co-ordinating body for developing a response to the discovery of James Hardie legacy asbestos in the Parramatta Local Government Area.

The EPA is responsible for the testing and sampling program of affected properties. NSW Health has provided health advice. City of Parramatta Council is responsible for managing any traces of asbestos found on council land.

In April 2017, the NSW Ombudsman tabled a report to Parliament Asbestos: How NSW government agencies deal with the problem. While this report noted that “NSW is now widely recognised in Australia as having a best practice approach to managing asbestos”, it did make several recommendations as to how asbestos could be managed better and where improvements could be made. The NSW Government has given in principle support for these recommendations.

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