Gunnedah Shire Council is investigating the illegal dumping of 24kgs of fibro sheeting suspected of containing asbestos, with the hazardous material found by disabled workers, who were sorting materials by hand from residents’ kerbside recycling collection.
Council says the potentially dangerous material was discovered in one of the bunkers and on the conveyor belt used at its Material Recycling Facility (MRF).
The MRF workers that were placed at risk exposure to this material are from the Gunnedah Workshop, a non-profit organisation providing NDIS services and supported employment opportunities to around 40 people with disabilities in Gunnedah.
“This beautiful community is incredibly supportive of our mission and of our people, which makes the thoughtless actions of one person so much more heartbreaking,” said Gunnedah Workshop Enterprises general manager, Jasmine Alloway.
“They have endangered the health of some of Gunnedah’s most vulnerable people, and probably their own as well. I hope that this is a case of ignorance, rather than malice: that they were somehow unaware that Gunnedah’s recycling is sorted by hand, and not that they just didn’t care.
The facility was immediately shut down and all workers removed from the area following the dangerous discovery, Council said in a statement.
“The site was inspected by an appropriately qualified contractor to determine visually if the product was suspected asbestos and upon inspection it was identified that the fibro sheeting was highly likely to be asbestos.”
“The contractor taped off the bunker, hopper and loading area and all Recyclit workers within the MRF were sent home.”
Council notified the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) of the incident, and its Work Health and Safety (WHS) business partner and kerbside collection contractor JR Richards, who sent representatives to the site to conduct their own investigation.
It says the investigation will include a review of footage provided by the in-truck camera to identify the alleged offender.
“The asbestos contractor hand picked all the visual fibro sheeting and removed the material from within the bunker and on the conveyor belt. The recycling material within the bunker and hopper was also treated as contaminated material and appropriately disposed at the Gunnedah Waste Management Facility designated asbestos area.”
“The areas that were exposed to the fibro sheeting contamination were cleaned by the asbestos contractor to allow normal operations to resume on Tuesday.
“The areas within the MRF were cleared of all fibro sheeting and contaminated material at 7.05pm on Monday night and a sample of the sheeting will be sent for testing to confirm the product is asbestos,” Council said.
Safe Work has cleared the site for operation, and advised that in this instance, the risk to the health of workers was well-mitigated.
Gunnedah Shire Council’s Director of Planning and Environmental Services, Andrew Johns said members of the local community should be mindful of the processes Council has in place for the removal and disposal of asbestos.
“If this material had been disposed correctly at the Gunnedah Waste Management Facility it would have cost the resident(s) responsible of placing this material in their recycling bin just $5.”
“That’s a small price to pay for doing the right thing not only by their own safety but that of our workers and the general community,” said Mr Johns.
The Council says legal action may be pursued as a result of the investigation.