Sydney parks closed, a primary school shut down: how asbestos became a serious problem.

Sydney has an asbestos crisis on its hands – and the state government is scrambling.

It all began back in January when asbestos was found in mulch used at the Rozelle Parklands in Sydney's Inner West. More than 10 tonnes of asbestos-laden mulch had been laid down, the alarm raised when a child brought home the material. 

Then the situation deepened. 

Asbestos-contaminated mulch was found at several Metro train stations and parks across central and western Sydney, as well as near a Western Sydney hospital and school.

This week bonded asbestos fragments were found in mulch at Liverpool West Public School's playground.

The asbestos Sydney crisis. Post continues below. 

Video via 9News.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) chief executive Tony Chappel said the results were concerning and his organisation would work around the clock to ensure the safety of the school community. The school has been closed for a couple of weeks, the students now moved to remote learning for the time being.


So far there have been 22 detections of asbestos across the capital since early January.

The vast majority of asbestos findings have been of the bonded asbestos variety. This type has a lower risk to public health, though when the material weakens and ages it has the potential to turn into a powder which can then be more harmful. 

Friable asbestos is the particularly dangerous kind. This sort was found at a central Sydney park in Surry Hills. Friable asbestos can easily crumble into dust and become airborne, therefore creating a potential health risk.

Australia's Asbestos Education Committee says asbestos-related diseases kill more than 4,000 Australians every year.

If asbestos-containing materials are disturbed and minute fibres are released which can be inhaled, this can lead to asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. There is no cure for mesothelioma, a cancer that can develop between 33 and 44 years after inhaling asbestos fibres with the average survival time following diagnosis, just 12 months.

If undisturbed, well maintained and in a stable, sealed condition, these products are considered unlikely to pose health risks. 

The asbestos crisis is so far-reaching, that it even impacted one of Sydney's biggest events of the year – Mardi Gras.


The rainbow extravaganza Fair Day, which is part of the Mardi Gras celebration events calendar, had to be cancelled due to asbestos being found at its parkland venue in Camperdown in the inner city.

Mardi Gras CEO Gil Beckwith said: "It breaks our heart to see this not go ahead, but given the safety concerns we must put our communities' wellbeing first."

The contaminations overall are now being considered a criminal matter as investigations continue to determine how it happened. The NSW opposition has called for a register of all sites at risk of possible asbestos contamination in mulch to be made available to the public.

The current penalties for corporations found to be dumping asbestos can reach up to $2 million, though NSW's Premier Chris Minns said he is considering increasing the penalty. 

The NSW EPA probe has grown to involve 120 investigators, who are working to trace the supply of the mulch across all the different cases.

Landscaping supply company, Greenlife Resource Recovery, has launched an appeal against a prevention notice issued by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority after the watchdog determined it supplied the mulch used at Rozelle.

The recycled mulch supplier said it fears it will be the "scapegoat" for supply chain issues it says have caused the situation. The company said its testing showed mulch stockpiled at its facility was free of asbestos contamination and the firm was confident the material was also clean when delivered to contractors for landscaping.


"The company has no visibility of, and does not control, how its mulch is used on a site once delivered," it said in a statement.

Katie Ferrier, Lawyer and specialist on Dust Disease cases at GMP Law, said the situation is deeply concerning. 

"It is deeply concerning that asbestos, a known carcinogen, continues to pose a threat to public health. The fact that there are still deaths in Australia, stemming from exposures decades ago, often from the workplace, illustrates the enduring impact of this hazardous material," she notes.

"It is unacceptable that almost 70,000 people could have been exposed to asbestos this weekend, with potentially dire consequences, even in seemingly innocuous settings such as a public park. This issue should concern everyone using such facilities, particularly our children."

The matter continues, the public now hoping no further cases are identified. 

With AAP.

Feature Image: AAP.

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