Asbestos issues surface in Port

SERIOUS concerns have been voiced over the safety of two Port Macquarie sites with exposed asbestos.

A WorkCover NSW inspection has found traces of asbestos on the site of a planned GP super clinic.

Asbestos also remains exposed along the canal walls near Settlement City, almost a decade after the issue was first raised with council and centre management.

Residents are concerned about the possibility of exposure to deadly friable asbestos particles at these locations.

The retaining wall remains a popular spot for children, families and fishermen. In 2005, Roger Kirby, who has worked with asbestos for many years, told council he believed lives were being put at risk.

It’s unfathomable, he said, that after all this time nothing had been done.

“What happens to the young kid that breaks a bit off a wall and chucks it at his mate, or plays with it and is at risk of breathing in asbestos dust,” Mr Kirby said.

Almost every weekend without fail, Mr Kirby’s daughter Madison would play in the water near the wall opposite their home.

“We used to canoe over and break bits off and throw it into the water,” Madison said.

Now the 20-year-old hates to think of the possibility she could have unknowingly been exposed to asbestos.

“The scary thing is you don’t find out until much further down the track.”

For months, the open-air demolition site on top of Clifton Drive, the location of a proposed GP super clinic, has been exposed to the elements with fears there could also be asbestos-containing material blowing from the site.

Stakeholders have assured the Port News they believe there is no public health risk at either location.

Anti-asbestos advocates Rod Smith and Karen Banton, however, are not convinced.

“There’s no safe level of exposure to asbestos,” said Mr Smith, a director of the Bernie Banton Foundation. “It is certainly of concern to those people living and working in the vicinity of those areas.” 

The use of asbestos has been widespread in Australia, with almost every home built or renovated before 1987 likely to contain the material.

But asbestos-containing material will only become dangerous once its fibres float free, usually from cutting, drilling, sanding or breaking it, and it becomes friable. 

The real risk is when the dust is inhaled and the particles, some 200 times thinner than a human hair, etches deep into the lungs.

The contracted builder of the super clinic site, Andrew Knox from Lianda Constructions, said the group had asked for a Work Cover assessment as a safety precaution.

He said tests would soon reveal whether the soil and rubble from the demolition of part of the site’s former Lourdes Nursing Home contains any asbestos.

Mr Knox said the builders had been taking precautions to wet the site as of last week.

But after the demolition of the building site in May, the Port News understands nothing has been done to secure the site.

This is despite the Bridle Group seeing “possible signs of buried ACM [asbestos-containing materials] within existing ground and building rubble used as filling.”

The Bridle Group’s, Gary Bridle, said the principal contractor Wayne Ellis Architects was notified. 

Mr Wayne Ellis said the normal “fibro sheets” on the site posed no risk to the public or workers.

But bonded-asbestos sheets could break and become friable, according to Mr Smith.

His first-hand experience with asbestos has seen him advocate for greater awareness. Greeting her father after a days work would see Mr Smith’s late wife Julie die an horrific death of mesothelioma, a rare asbestos cancer, some 50 years later.

“I watched her go from a 65kg healthy woman to weighing 28kg and looking like she had come from a World War II concentration camp,” he said.

“Living with someone dying like this certainly makes you terrified of asbestos.”

Greg Bell, deputy director of the North Coast Public Health Unit, said if the building site showed traces of asbestos it should be made safe.

“It would be prudent to make sure the asbestos can’t migrate off site and the asbestos can’t be breathed in by a passersby,” Mr Bell said.

He also said children playing with pieces of broken dry asbestos would presumably present a health risk.

Council’s director of development and environment services Matt Rogers said the Settlement City revetment wall presented no public health risk.

“We’ve encouraged the RSL and Settlement City to upgrade the infrastructure and they’ve been responsive to that,” he said.

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