Deadline blows out to clean up asbestos ground zero

Jack GramenzAAP
Rozelle Parklands has been closed since asbestos was found in the ground in January. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)
Camera IconRozelle Parklands has been closed since asbestos was found in the ground in January. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

Asbestos-contaminated mulch has been harder to remove from an inner-Sydney park than first thought as the deadline to remove the potentially dangerous substance is extended.

Rozelle Parklands was ground zero for the contamination scandal after mulch containing fragments of bonded asbestos was detected in January.

Further tests confirmed contaminated mulch had been used at a number of schools, hospitals and other parks in Sydney and surrounds throughout February, while similar issues had also been picked up in the ACT and Queensland.

The number of positive sites in NSW had risen to 61 on Saturday after hundreds of tests around the state.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


Rozelle Parklands, in Sydney's inner west, was closed to remove the mulch less than a month after it opened on the site of former rail yards atop a massive underground motorway interchange.

But the original deadline expiring at 5pm on Thursday has been extended four weeks to March 28.

Transport for NSW requested an extension on Friday after the original notice from the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) was expanded to include some surrounding areas.

"The EPA has also acknowledged the ongoing difficulties of the clean-up, including challenges related to removing mulch adjacent to the road corridor," the transport department said in a statement on Thursday.

"These sites require overnight road-occupancy licences, involving traffic management set-up, the establishment of a protected work-zone and decommissioning the same night."

Some areas require further risk assessment and control measures to manage the environmental and human health risks associated with the removal of mulch, the EPA's varied clean-up notice issued on Wednesday noted.

Once the mulch has been removed by departmental staff, working with Rozelle contractors John Holland-CPB, a licensed asbestos assessor would certify the contamination had been cleared, Transport for NSW said.

Inner West Council issued asbestos clean-up notices to the contractors on Monday after it became obvious the deadline would not be met.

"It seems that because the EPA clean-up notice was issued to Transport for NSW, these contractors have decided that they aren't accountable for adhering to the deadline," mayor Darcy Byrne said.

The delay has outraged the community, Balmain Greens MP Kobi Shetty said.

"It is incredibly frustrating news after we have waited so long for this park to be opened - to then have it open for less than a month before it was shut down," she said.

The Sydney outbreak sparked inspections in southeast Queensland, with asbestos detected in a compost stockpile at waste company NuGrow's Ipswich site west of Brisbane.

To date 16 sites have been identified after receiving potentially tainted soil from NuGrow, including three schools.

A Greenbank dog park is also among the public sites being investigated.

But authorities say the soil was delivered to fenced off construction sites at the dog park, Walloon State School, St Aidan's Anglican Girls School and Calamvale Special School and inaccessible to the general public.

Peter Mckay from the Office of Industrial Relations said site inspections had indicated there was a "very minimal" public health risk.

NuGrow Ipswich is the only site to return a positive result after 23 southeast Queensland sites were inspected.

Results from half of the tested sites will be returned by Friday but more Queensland inspections are scheduled.

NuGrow issued a revised statement on Thursday night, removing an earlier reference to bonded asbestos being found at its site.

Authorities had confirmed on Wednesday that fragments of the more dangerous friable asbestos had been detected.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails