BAW BAW // COUNCIL records of illegal asbestos dumping show unsafe disposal of the hazardous material on public land is an infrequent but continuing concern for the region.
Above: a piece of asbestos. Photo: Louis Nelson.
First published in the 11 December 2015 print edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. All dates relative to then.
As reported by the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen in July 2013, the Baw Baw Shire did not keep records of asbestos dumping on public land before entering a new waste contract in October 2012.
In the recorded period of the 2012/ 13 financial year, six illegal asbestos dumps were cleaned up by contractors on behalf of the council at a cost to ratepayers of $4,050.
In 2013/14, two sites were attended at a cost of $620.
$1,970 was spent in 2014/15 for the clean-up of four sites.
Illegal and unsafe dumping of asbestos is an issue in regional areas like Baw Baw. Distance to an appropriate disposal site and the cost of disposal can be prohibitive and there is an apparent confusion about who should be coordinating the response to the dangerous material.
Asbestos is a fine fibrous material which when inhaled can become embedded in lung tissue. The possible health side-effects of inhalation, which include asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma and pleural disease, occur up to 30 years after the substances enters the lung. These diseases often lead to death.
The lack of records makes it difficult to determine if the closure of the Trafalgar tip — a site which accepted asbestos — in November 2011 led to an increase in illegal dumping. In 2013, then-Asbestoswise CEO Josh Fergus told WBBC a council not keeping records was “very, very poor practice” and “really short sighted.” Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur, however, argued keeping records was a state government job and councils were not funded to deal with asbestos.
Several factors contribute to the number of illegal dumps, with the cost, time and effort of appropriately disposing of asbestos all being possible reasons why people choose to abandon the hazardous material in public places.
Since the closure of the Trafalgar Landfill in 2011, the distance of legal disposal sites from Baw Baw residents has become greater.
The council figures are by no means a comprehensive account of all asbestos dumping in Baw Baw.
The distance is an issue not only because it might make legal disposal appear more difficult, but also because improperly secured loads of asbestos present a risk to more communities when transported over larger distances. An investigation by The Age in 2005 suggested loose asbestos-contaminated material was unsafely transported across much of Baw Baw to the then-open
Trafalgar Landfill, possibly contaminating towns on the way.
According to Mr Fergus, “you do see higher incidences [of illegal disposal] in regional areas.” He suggested council-subsidised removal as a means of reducing the incidences of illegal disposal.
Houses constructed between 1945 and 1980 usually contained large amounts of asbestos, which was used as an insulator. Asbestos was banned as a building material in 1989, and was only completely banned from all new uses a decade ago.
Asbestos is still common, and statistics from the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council suggest a majority of public buildings and around one third of private dwellings built in the peak asbestos usage period contain asbestos in concrete, cement sheeting, pipes and insulation and elsewhere. Much of the older housing in regional Victoria was built in that period.
While most of that asbestos will likely be removed appropriately and safely when the time comes for those buildings to be renovated or demolished, there is a continuing risk an uninformed or lazy renovator or builder will choose the easy option when it comes time for disposal.
Such an incident occured in early 2014 when Telstra was forced to return to an asbestos-lined inspection pit on Scenic Road, Warragul, to remove asbestos-like material left behind after routine maintenance. Material from the pit remained on-site after the clean-up and a second technician had to be sent to finish the job. The incident highlighted how common and easily disturbed asbestos is. Had a local with knowledge of what asbestos looks like not noticed it, the material may never have been safely removed.
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