Mesothelioma could be one of the topics on the agenda at an upcoming community meeting in Warialda to discuss recent asbestos safety breaches in the area.
WorkCover NSW investigators issued six improvement notices to Gwydir Shire Council after local residents and council employees complained of improper asbestos handling procedures.
Taking place on Saturday October 12, the meeting will address issues such as work safety improvements that are required, while providing detailed information on the breaches that occurred.
Both the NSW Environment Protection Authority and WorkCover received complaints, with Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia (ADFA) president Barry Robson confirming to the Inverell Times that he will be in attendance.
“There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation flying about,” he said.
“But it is essential that local residents and workers know the facts about the deficiencies that potentially exposed people to deadly asbestos fibres, and what changes must occur to ensure asbestos products are handled safely going forward.”
According to Mr Robson, a WorkCover NSW interim investigation has already highlighted a number of potential breaches that must be addressed immediately.
Residents exposed to mesothelioma risks
Among the allegations levelled at Gwydir Shire Council are that its asbestos handling and disposal practices contravened health and safety laws, and both workers and residents were exposed to asbestos fibres on numerous occasions, which could result in mesothelioma.
This included asbestos cement water pipes being cut without safety equipment or other precautions.
There are also claims that council management told workers to label asbestos as general waste during disposal to avoid higher charges.
At the time, Mr Robson said ADFA was “deeply concerned” with accounts given by residents and workers.
“There were … examples of asbestos being illegally dumped, or simply being tossed over the fence of local tips when they weren’t open, and extremely worrying stories of large quantities of asbestos sheeting simply disappearing, with no documentation to show where or how it was safely disposed of,” he added.
Council employees were also said to have inadequate training to deal with asbestos risks, as well as lacking the safety equipment to properly handle the material.
Investigations by WorkCover NSW and the NSW Environment Protection Authority are still ongoing, although the council meeting is expected to address the status of these proceedings.
Chris Preston, United Services Union northern branch organiser, will also be at the meeting, as well as a WorkCover NSW representative.