Updated | Contractor defends asbestos control during demolition of old flats at Cronulla

Workers in protective suits sift through material on the site. Picture: supplied
Workers in protective suits sift through material on the site. Picture: supplied

Update

Asbestos discovered on a Cronulla demolition site was in the ground, not the building, the contractor says.

Cameron Little, operations manager for Home Demolitions, said the asbestos could have been remnants from old houses which made way for flats built about the 1960s.

All necessary precautions were taken during the testing for, and removal of, the material, he said.

Mr Little responded to the concerns of residents near the site in Clyde Avenue where two old blocks of flats were demolished (earlier story below).

Mr Little said his company demolished only one of the blocks – the other had been removed earlier.

”Beginning in late June, demolition works commenced by way of all non masonry materials being stripped from the structure leaving only structural brick and reinforced concrete,” Mr Little said. 

“The front doors to each of the 12 apartments were assumed to be rated as fireproof and as such handled and disposed of as assumed asbestos (there was no point in breaking them open and exposing asbestos for the purpose of testing – better to be safe than sorry).

“Following an inspection and clearance, mechanical demolition of the structure began the following week by processing masonry to be transported to recyclers in Kurnell.”

Mr Little said the final part of the job was to remove the concrete slabs beneath the garage parking spaces.

“Upon raising the slabs, it was observed that the material below was not virgin unexcavated soils, which prompted the testing of the material beneath the building,” he said. 

“During this time the site was covered in 200um plastic.

“Testing was performed by Safe Work & Environments Pty Ltd and a report produced identifying particulates of material within the soils containing chrysotile asbestos fibre bonded within concrete sheeting.”

Mr Little said 200um plastic was erected around the perimeter of the building and a decontamination unit brought to site.

“Excavation of approximately 300 tonnes was completed over the course of four days.

“Site works ceased until further testing was performed to confirm that all soils on site containing asbestos had been removed and the site now being fit for reoccupation.”

Mr Little said, prior to the excavation of asbestos contaminated soils, notifications were delivered to all residents within a 50 metre radius of the site indicating the nature of work and providing contact details.

SafeWork NSW had also monitored the site, he said.

Tom Grant, who raised concerns, was pleased with the company’s assurance residents had not been put at risk.

“But, can we be sure that all operators with be as diligent as Home Demolitions now appear to have been?” he said.

“Fault in the matter still lies with Safework NSW for not informing the public better and being far less than helpful when an inquiry is made.”

Earlier

The demolition of two old home unit blocks at Cronulla has led to renewed questioning of the official oversight of asbestos risks.

Tom Grant, who lives near the Clyde Avenue site where a new apartment block is being built, discovered the onus was on residents to report concerns.

Tom Grant  at the Cronulla development site after the demolition of the old home units blocks. Picture: John Veage

Tom Grant at the Cronulla development site after the demolition of the old home units blocks. Picture: John Veage

However, by the time an inspector arrived, the demolition was complete and most of the material had been removed from the site.

“We have to hope that none of the numerous children living in this area are adversely affected,” he said.

“The horse has bolted for us, but our experience may be helpful for other Sutherland Shire residents.”

Mr Grant said he and his neighbours were surprised to see little effort by workers to control dust during the demolition and they seldom wore dust masks.

“The demolished material was broken up on site and carried away in open skips or trucks,” he said. 

“We assumed, wrongly as it turns out, that the council would monitor the project after approving it and, presumably, there had been no issue with asbestos on the site.

“However, when I returned home one day to find three workers in protective suits and face masks searching through what was  left of the material on the site, I called the council.

“I was told that there was nothing the council would do as, once the demolition began, it was a matter for SafeWork NSW.”

Mr Grant said SafeWork NSW told him demolition was being done by a contractor who was authorised for asbestos work, and the authority did not normally monitor sites unless a complaint was made. 

Following Mr Grant’s call and inquiries by the Leader to SafeWork NSW, there was a noticeable change in work practices.

The temporary fence was covered in thick plastic with an asbestos warning sign and a worker in a protective suit and mask hosed down material while an excavator was working.

Mr Grant said material was taken away in covered trucks and the gate was kept closed.

“It is strange the precautions were not in place earlier,” he said.

 A spokeswoman for Sutherland Shire Council confirmed it referred residents with complaints about asbestos handling to SafeWork NSW, which was the regulatory authority.

A SafeWork NSW inspector spokesman said an inspector conducted a “verification visit” at the site after concerns were raised.

“The inspection found that demolition work is complete and asbestos is being managed in compliance with work health and safety laws,” he said.

“Neighbours within the immediate vicinity have been notified about asbestos removal work by a licensed asbestos removalist.

“No other work health and safety issues were identified at the site.”

The spokesman said, under work health and safety laws, all asbestos removal work (friable asbestos and non-friable asbestos over 10 square metres) must be undertaken by licensed asbestos removalists.

They were required to notify neighbours in the immediate vicinity.

“Generally, this involves notifying the premises on either side and at the rear of the asbestos removal site,” he said.

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