Asbestos containing material found on Urunga foreshores

The Urunga lido area after work done in July last year. Fragments of material containing asbestos were found there by resident Andrew Murcott in September and January.
The Urunga lido area after work done in July last year. Fragments of material containing asbestos were found there by resident Andrew Murcott in September and January.

In September of last year, not long after the Urunga lido site was dredged and a new pathway from the grass to the sand was constructed, Andrew Murcott from Bellingen took his little daughter there for a paddle.

The three-year-old was playing at the northern end of the lagoon, in the sand near the retaining wall, when she picked up something that Mr Murcott, who has a background in the building industry, thought might be asbestos.

So he double-bagged it and took it to Bellingen Shire Council. Someone filled in a job sheet and Mr Murcott went away, expecting a swift response.

A week later, he'd heard nothing, so he sent the council an email, asking if the item had proved to be asbestos or not.

Visiting the lido again on September 20, he easily found another six pieces of the material lying on top of the sand, which he also delivered to council.

"It has become clear council have not gone down to the lido to review the site yet. How long will this take?" he asked them.

In fact, council had sent samples away for testing and on September 21 they received results confirming that some of the material was asbestos.

Deputy General Manager Operations Matt Fanning rang Andrew Murcott on October 22 to say about 80 pieces of the material had been collected from the beach and council had been advised there was minimal risk to public health.

Council's General Manager, Liz Jeremy, told the Courier-Sun that after receiving the test results, the council sought advice from state government agencies and confirmed appropriate strategies to manage the material.

"This process included reviewing the public health risk, which in the context of the materials found was determined, in consultation with the agencies involved, to be minor and manageable," Ms Jeremy said.

"Key factors underpinning this conclusion included the size of the materials being found, the frequency of the finds and that they were typically wet, which invariably further reduces any risks."

Mr Murcott said he has found dry pieces too, and that they are "grinding away" in the abrasive sand.

He said in his opinion the sand was contaminated and the site needed to be fenced, raked and cleaned.

However, council was advised by state government agencies that this was not necessary because of the small amount being found.

Early in January, Mr Murcott found three more pieces of the asbestos sheeting, about the size of his palm, above the high tide mark, and one small wet piece at the low tide mark.

"This material was on top of the sand, exposed to the open environment," he wrote in an email to Matt Fanning on January 7, but received no reply, so when he bumped into mayor Dominic King in Urunga towards the end of the month, he showed him some of the latest pieces.

The mayor asked council staff to respond.

Matt Fanning emailed Mr Murcott a written response on February 6, which described the actions council had taken and also noted that the matter was the responsibility of the Reflections Holiday Park operated by NSW Crown Lands.

But unfortunately the email went to Mr Murcott's 'junk' folder and he did not realise it was there until after the Courier-Sun became involved.

Nonetheless, he remains concerned that the beach is not safe.

Mr Murcott said when fragments of fibro containing asbestos were found on the foreshores of Minnie Water last year, probably from dwellings located on the beach reserve decades earlier, Clarence Valley Council closed public access to the area and committed to expensive remediation work.

Bellingen Shire Council said the strategies put in place to monitor, manage and clean up the Urunga lido beach area were ongoing and reflected the advice received from state agencies such as the EPA, Safework NSW and the Office of Local Government.

"[This includes] inspecting the site regularly, removing any material found and managing it in accordance with the relevant legislation and guidelines, logging information regarding material found, and maintaining ongoing liaison with state agencies," Liz Jeremy said.