February 18 - 24, 2024: Issue 614


NSW Government launches Asbestos Taskforce to support investigation into tainted mulch: bonded asbestos found at Allambie Heights Public School

Image: Google maps.

Friday February 16, 2024: from NSW Education Dept.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) supply chain tracking is identifying schools for precautionary testing. The decision to undertake precautionary testing is supported by the NSW Government Asbestos Taskforce, which includes representatives from NSW Health and the Department of Education.

The health and safety of our students and staff are our top priorities, and we are cooperating fully with the EPA in their investigations, which include inspections at:

North Sydney Public School

The school has been advised by the EPA to keep students and staff away from identified garden beds. There is currently no evidence of asbestos contamination at this school. Once results are finalised, the EPA will advise what further action may be required.

Affected schools

The EPA has conducted tests at Liverpool West Public School. The department continues to work with EPA officers and an accredited hygienist to ensure all garden mulch is removed from the school and replaced with clean, unrecycled mulch. While this work is underway, staff and students will be accommodated at nearby Gulyangarri Public School to enable face-to-face learning.

An independent hygienist has confirmed the presence of bonded asbestos in mulch in a single garden bed at Allambie Heights Public School. The area has been cordoned off since the morning of Friday 16 February and has been inaccessible to staff and students. The department will work with the independent hygienist to ensure the area is remediated as soon as possible in accordance with work, health and safety laws, EPA requirements and the NSW Department of Education’s Asbestos Management Plan. Information will continue to be provided to the school community.

On Thursday February 15 the NSW Government announced an Asbestos Taskforce to give more resources and support to the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s investigation into asbestos in mulch.

The taskforce will be led by the current Chair of the NSW Asbestos Coordination Committee, Carolyn Walsh, and will include senior representatives of several NSW Government agencies, as well as local government.

The Premier and Minister for the Environment have activated an additional surge workforce to assist the state’s environmental regulator, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), as the scale of the investigation continues to grow.

Additional staff from the Natural Resources Access Regulator and NSW Fire and Rescue will be deployed to the EPA to increase capacity. This is in addition to the EPA’s already expanded workforce on the investigation.

The government’s number one priority is “contact tracing” down the complex supply chain, and then facilitating testing, reporting and management of any positive results. SafeWork NSW, NSW Health and Public Works Advisory will continue to provide support.

The taskforce will help co-ordinate government agencies and assist in prioritising sites considered of highest risk to the public, to ensure all resources are available to secure and remediate sites.

Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe stated:

''The NSW Government is committed to ensuring the community is safe from any potential harmful impacts of contact with asbestos.

'This is the largest investigation the Environment Protection Authority has undertaken in recent decades. The complex, criminal investigation involves multiple lines of enquiry.

'Our number-one priority is to finish contract tracing the supply chain – so that any potential receiver of the mulch is notified. That means we can take immediate action to make the area safe.

'The surge workforce means we can get to the bottom of the supply chain much faster.

'I am also taking advice on options to strengthen penalties for those who do the wrong thing.''

More information

If you have any concerns about mulch in your child’s school, contact the school directly for the most up to date information.

All positive sites will be updated on the EPA website daily. For more information on the EPA’s asbestos investigation or to report concerns about recycled mulch please visit here

You can find out more about asbestos here: https://www.asbestos.nsw.gov.au/

At all locations except for one, the type of asbestos discovered is non-friable or bonded asbestos. NSW Health advises non-friable asbestos is considered low risk to human health and the environment.

The best way to reduce the risk associated with asbestos is to prevent the fibres from being released by preventing damage, disturbance, or deterioration.

The EPA states it is extremely concerned by the discovery of asbestos in mulch and is taking strong action to establish the source and ensure removal of the affected material.