Barangaroo deal not a mistake: EPA

Soil shipped to Port Kembla that was contaminated with asbestos must be kept wet, and the air monitored. Picture: MELANIE RUSSELLThe NSW Environment Protection Authority has defended its handling of soil shipments from Barangaroo to Port Kembla after asbestos was found when the first ship arrived.

EPA chairman Barry Buffier yesterday said it had not been a mistake to grant developer Lend Lease a resource recovery exemption to ship the soil to Port Kembla to use for land reclamation.

His comments came as the construction union accused Lend Lease of playing with workers’ lives.

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The bulk carrier CSL Pacific is still docked at Port Kembla and no further shipments will be allowed after 25 pieces of bonded asbestos were spotted as the first 15,000-tonne shipment was unloaded.

The discovery confirmed fears that contaminated soil would be shipped despite ‘‘stringent’’ tests.

The EPA quickly revoked the resource recovery exemption and ordered the soil to be kept wet and the air to be monitored.

‘‘I don’t believe it was a mistake to issue the exemption, but I am disappointed that some of the material has got through and that’s why we’ve stopped it,’’ Mr Buffier said yesterday.

‘‘These things are always based on judgment … but we did have in place a contingency if asbestos was found at Port Kembla, and we are now managing what’s there in a way that it won’t pose harm to the environment.

‘‘The simple fact of the matter is that taking the material from Barangaroo to Port Kembla is of benefit to Barangaroo and it’s also of benefit to Port Kembla in terms of the outer harbour development.’’

Mr Buffier met Lend Lease management in Sydney yesterday to discuss the way forward.

Shipments will only resume if the EPA is satisfied that a new licence should be issued.

Lend Lease said it had correctly followed the EPA-approved procedures.

‘‘We take the safety of our workers and subcontractors extremely seriously,’’ a spokesman said.

‘‘The screening measures that are in place at Barangaroo South are more stringent than is required under the resource recovery exemption, and the unexpected finds policy and procedures have all worked, and safely removed the identified fibro.’’

Screening measures included visual monitoring by qualified occupational hygienists and asbestos removal contractors. Air monitoring at the site and the ship indicated no airborne asbestos.

Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union state secretary Brian Parker said yesterday the find at Port Kembla suggested ‘‘major problems’’ with inspection processes at Barangaroo.

‘‘They should be treating it as contaminated soil, not as solid waste, and it should be dumped appropriately, where it’s put into a licensed pit, it’s buried in the ground where it’s not going to be resurfaced,’’ he said.

‘‘All they’re trying to do is save themselves a significant amount of money here.’’

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