Asbestos find halts Port Kembla soil shipments

Bulk carrier CSL Pacific, carrying soil from Sydney’s contaminated Barangaroo site, at Port Kembla’s outer harbour. Picture: ADAM McLEAN Shipments of soil from Sydney’s contaminated Barangaroo site to Port Kembla have been halted after asbestos was discovered in the material after it arrived at Port Kembla.
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An estimated 15,000 tonnes of soil, to be used as fill to construct the outer harbour expansion, has been unloaded from the bulk carrier CSL Pacific and is sitting on land at Port Kembla.

The discovery of the asbestos is a blow to advocates of the controversial plan, who had assured the public that “stringent” testing of the soil would ensure the shipments were safe.

MORE: Asbestos detected at Barangaroo site

MORE: Port Kembla won’t accept contaminated fill: chairman

Late yesterday the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced it had revoked permission given to Barangaroo developer Lend Lease for the reuse project after pieces of bonded asbestos were found in the soil at Port Kembla.

Attention will now turn to how the EPA allowed Lend Lease to take responsibility for soil testing at Barangaroo, with the environment watchdog inspecting the soil only when it arrived at Port Kembla.

Late yesterday Port Kembla Port Corporation chief executive Dom Figliomeni told the Mercury the asbestos “flakes” were spotted when port and EPA staff inspected the soil.

He said the shipments would now be reviewed to determine whether any more would be received.

“The measures we’ve put in place have worked, and we’ll now be managing that as part of our conditions,” Mr Figliomeni said.

The first soil arrived at the port a week ago in the first of an expected 30 shipments. It was to be dumped in the water to reclaim land for the port expansion.

EPA chairman Barry Buffier said it was “disappointing” that the Lend Lease testing processes did not identify the asbestos before transfer, and permission for the shipments had now been revoked.

“The conditions of the resource recovery exemption was that Lend Lease would undertake thorough testing of the material before it left Barangaroo,” he said.

“The EPA relied on the results of this testing. Clearly these processes have failed to identify the presence of asbestos and the EPA has ordered an immediate investigation to discover how and why that happened.”

The material at Port Kembla will now be cordoned off and kept wet. Lend Lease’s managing director of Barangaroo South, Andrew Wilson, said no airborne asbestos had been identified.

“We have correctly followed all agreed procedures to spot and remove fibro from the Barangaroo South excavated material, including the additional testing and air monitoring measures,” he said.

“Despite this, some bonded pieces ranging in size from a coin to a mobile phone, have been identified at Port Kembla and were removed by a qualified hygienist in accordance with required standards.”

Mr Wilson said “stringent” testing had been performed on the material.

No further shipments from Barangaroo will be allowed unless a new resource recovery exemption is granted.

Earlier this month, when the EPA granted permission for the shipments, chief environmental regulator Mark Gifford said environmental criteria would be “strict”.

“The EPA granted the exemption only after it was completely satisfied that the material being reused would meet all of the guidelines associated with resource recovery, including strict environment and human health criteria, and was suitable for use as a fill material at the Port Kembla site,” he said.

In June, port corporation chairman Nicholas Whitlam assured the Mercury the soil would be subject to a range of tests in Sydney to ensure it was safe before being shipped to Port Kembla.

“Anything that comes into the port will be tested again by us … not that we don’t trust anyone,” he said.

“You can rest assured nothing will come into the port for fill that is other than fully approved under every environmental control you could hope for.”

At the same time Ports Minister Duncan Gay said the port would not be given, or accept, contaminated fill.

“Not only would Nick and the crew down here not want to take it, legally they can’t take contaminated fill,” the Ports Minister said.

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