Marion Street Cottages, Leichhardt. Photo: Supplied by Josephine Wadlow-Evans.

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The detection, removal, and disposal of asbestos and lead paint is no simple matter, as seen by the numerous amounts of instructions and warnings on council and NSW government websites. So why is it that the Innerwest Council did not take proper precaution against such a prevalent Sydney issue when demolishing two cottages built in 1909?

The decision to crush the two cottages, located on Marion Street in Leichhardt, was made mid- March WITH demolition being carried out shortly afterwards. But concerned residents quickly noticed a “Danger: Asbestos Removal in Process,” sign. According to council spokeswoman Elizabeth Heath, “No asbestos containing material was lo-cated during the inspection or by analysis.”

Council also was said to have “commissioned a hazardous materials report through EBG Envi-ronmental Geoscience,” but A to Z Construction representatives told City Hub they “do no test-ing. It’s a visual test…We’re experts.”

Research through council’s site and standard search engines gathers no evidence of any said ex-pert and independent report.

Air Safe, a company specialising in asbestos testing, monitoring and consultancy, said “any house built pre 2003 should be tested. Samples should be taken from the site and examined in the laboratory.”

A high ranking employee, who prefers to be left unnamed, from NSW Safe Works, who protects workers rights and compensation, has been in the occupational health consultancy business for over forty years, and was shocked in regards to the procedure pre-demolition at the Marion Street cottages. This employee says all suspicious materials, like old downpipes should have been removed. Another subject of worry is lead paint. “The house is 90 years old, there’s almost a guarantee there’s some lead paint in it…and it has sort of been ignored.”

“From what I understand they just went in with a front-end loader and knocked the whole thing down, which is unfortunately fairly common practice. Unfortunately I see improper pre-demolition checks happen a lot. Safe Works doesn’t have a construction team and they’re hard pressed, especially with all the construction going on in the city basin area.”

He said “this is expert work. It should have been removed by an expert professional. The lead paint should have been too. When bringing down a building water suppression should be used. Typically a thousand litre tank is filled and a pressure pump is used.”
Eye witness Josephine Wadlow-Evans contacted City Hub, describing the demolition procedure as “scant use of a small hose…at the time that one observed the demolition the water was not being used.”

This example of poor execution, from unreleased documents regarding levels of asbestos and lead paint, to careless demolition with no water suppression and front end loader knockdowns, is just a microcosm of a larger problem in NSW, but specifically the inner west. According to the council website, around a third of NSW homes contain some asbestos. Air Safe’s website states that “if your home was built before 1990 there is a good chance it will contain some form of as-bestos.” But removal is not the only issue.

The transportation and dumping regulations for asbestos and other similar materials are very strict, but not always followed, as it can be found to be inconvenient and expensive. There are only nine Sydney area asbestos dumping sites, all with working hours and fees.

The NSW Safe Works employee says “unfortunately time and time again it goes through a con-crete processing plant where it goes through a grinder and releases the asbestos…You often see someone get paid to just drop it off in some lot.”