Liverpool Council accused of ‘turning blind eye’ to asbestos contamination

Two men in biohazard suits examine a piece of fibrous cement by a river bank.

A Liverpool Council whistleblower has spoken out about how managers told workers to turn a blind eye to asbestos contamination following an investigation by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

Last week, the ABC reported the EPA was investigating up to 15 sites that could be affected by the contaminated fill, which could have come from the council’s soil storage facility, the Western Depot at Kemps Creek.

It comes after Liverpool councillors passed a motion at an extraordinary meeting last week to provide medical checks for staff who believe they may have been affected by the contaminated fill.

The EPA told the ABC it had begun an investigation into sites of potential contamination.

“The NSW Environment Protection Authority is currently investigating allegations that Liverpool Council has unlawfully disposed waste at a number of properties in the Liverpool Council area,” a spokesperson said.

A man who worked for the council in 2013 said asbestos was everywhere.

Some of the leading hands said, ‘don’t worry about it, just put it in the truck and take it away’. When the coordinators came out they turned a blind eye to it and said keep working, keep working.

Whistleblower talking to the ABC

He agreed to speak to the ABC anonymously, for fears of repercussions, and said the issue was first discovered by workers about four years ago.

“I was told by quite a few people that some of the fill that was going in had asbestos in amongst it,” he said.

“It was laying there for a long time… it’s everywhere.”

The man said asbestos material has been knowingly dumped at the depot by contractors and mixed in with the soil for several years.

“A lot of jobs were done on overtime, concreters used to pull it out, take it to Western Depot and dump it there,” he said.

“There’d be Telstra pits and everything else, the old asbestos pits and they’d just leave it there and mix it in with everything else, it’d be mixed in with soil, mixed in with concrete, it’d be mixed in with everything.”

“I was told that when they were putting it (asbestos material) through, they just kept putting it back through until they got really fine soil.”

Whistleblower calls out Liverpool Council on asbestos

He said workers complained to managers about the asbestos but their complaints were dismissed.

“Some of the leading hands said, ‘don’t worry about it, just put it in the truck and take it away’,” he said.

“When the coordinators came out they turned a blind eye to it and said keep working, keep working.

“On a lot of occasions we were told to ignore it, bury it.”

The man said workers were afraid to speak up out of fear of losing their jobs.

“The boys were too worried about repercussions and getting disciplined or getting the sack,” he said.

“So they’re scared for their well-being and their lifestyle.

“If they don’t [obey instructions] the bosses give them curry and they just continue to hound them and hound them.”

Bigger investigation needed, whistleblower says

The United Services Union has told the ABC about 22 sites could be affected by the contaminated fill, including parks, reserves and waterways, some of which are near schools.

“The sites that are there are the tip of the iceberg,” the whistleblower told the ABC, adding that a bigger investigation was needed.

“It could be on numerous sites all over Liverpool. Parks were coming in and loading it on trucks on weekends and taking it everywhere.”

Councillor Peter Ristevski, who first raised the issue to Council, told the ABC a lot of the footpaths built by council in the past 18 months to two years have used this asbestos-contaminated backfill.

The man who worked at the council in 2013 confirmed this could be the case.

“If you have had a footpath done recently and had soil put in, ask council to come out and have it tested for your own safety,” he said.

He added that residents should call the council or EPA immediately if they were concerned.

“It’s a safety issue… ring somebody, don’t ignore it, it’s the worst thing you can do,” he said

“It’s also your life, your children’s life and your grandchildren’s life which is affected.”

Council management has deliberately ignored the problem, he believes.

“It’s a cover-up,” he added.

Low health risk: Liverpool Council

Liverpool Council CEO Carl Wulff told the ABC last week the contamination posed a low health risk for workers and members of the public.

“The material is in solid form, unless it becomes airborne either through drilling or cutting or whatever there is no risk,” he said.

“The sites that have been identified it is either sub-surface or buried, so it is already in a safe position from a worker’s perspective or a health perspective.”

Mr Wulff said medical checks were available for staff members who were concerned about their health.

“We’ve said to them we understand their concern and accordingly we’ve organised for some testing to be done,” he said.

“And that anyone who feels they’ve been exposed, for whatever reason, we are happy to get the testing done.

“I’m very confident no staff member has been exposed to asbestos risk in any way.”

Resident says he will sue council over health concerns

Bernie King has lived in Chipping Norton for almost 60 years.

In July this year, he said he received a letter from Liverpool Council stating that stockpiles of dirt along Rickard Road contained “small fragments” of asbestos.

He said the council removed the dirt but in the process his front patio contaminated with asbestos dust.

“Dust was blowing everywhere, when they put it here there was dust, when they took it away there was dust,” he said.

“But we only found out [there was asbestos] when they were taking it away. Then my front patio was contaminated as well.”

Mr King said the council had placed 12 stockpiles of dirt along his street over 12 months ago to prevent trucks from accessing the area.

Now he is getting medical tests, fearful he may have asbestosis.

“I’ve been here the whole time on this street, copping it,” he said.

Mr King has engaged Paramount Compensation Lawyers and intends to sue the council for personal injury and seek compensation.

Metropolitan manager for the United Services Union Steve Donley said many residents, like Mr King, and council workers were concerned about their health.

“People like Bernie are starting to stand up to say enough is enough,” he said.

“It’s a disgrace, they shouldn’t have to be put through this.”

Mr Donley said Liverpool Council has ignored the seriousness of the contamination.

“The CEO and the mayor knew about this 12 months ago,” he said.

“All it’s done is, put your head in the sand, it’s too big of a thing, let it ride over and hopefully it’ll go away. Well, it’s not going away.”