The prime minister says he has been left stunned by news that tonnes of asbestos-contaminated mulch was laid down at a park in his inner-city Sydney electorate.
More than 10 tonnes of material will need to be removed from the new Rozelle Parklands – built over a controversial underground motorway interchange – after asbestos waste was found throughout the site.
Park operator Transport for NSW has been given a six-week deadline to remove all of the mulch, following the discovery of asbestos in 17 areas scattered across the project.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, whose electorate covers the park and surrounding suburbs, said he was “shocked” by the revelations of widespread contamination.
“I don’t understand how it can be that it wasn’t foreseen … it’s just extraordinary,” he told ABC Radio on Friday.
The park was officially opened in mid-December but closed on January 10 after initial testing of mulch samples brought home by a child revealed there was asbestos near a playground at the 10-hectare site.
Mr Albanese said the park was intended to compensate locals for years of disruption due to the motorway construction and the fact it was closed was “really disappointing”.
“I want to make sure that the appropriate authorities get on top of this really quickly (and) clean it up once and for all,” he said.
Over 10 tonnes of mulch containing asbestos had been applied across the site and all of the material would have to be removed and disposed of, a NSW Environment Protection Authority notice said.
Transport for NSW has been given until 29 February to complete the work.
A traffic island a kilometre from the park on Thursday became the latest place where the mulch containing bonded asbestos was discovered.
Two garden beds at the interchange’s operations centre in Rozelle were also found to have the same material.
While considered low risk compared to friable asbestos, bonded asbestos can weaken and potentially become powder as it is exposed to the elements.
The further finds came on the same day it emerged that concerns about the safety of the park were raised by a member of the public a week before any samples were tested.
Transport for NSW blamed minimal staffing over Christmas for an email alerting authorities on January 2 not being followed up for six days.
Testing of samples from the site was undertaken on January 9 and the park was closed the following day, when the local council and public were notified.
Transport for NSW co-ordinator Howard Collins on Friday said it was shocking that the asbestos-laden material ended up anywhere, let alone a park.
“It was unfortunate that this discovery was over a holiday period, but it’s not good enough … and it is (our) responsibility to ensure if someone flags something, we deal with it,” he said.
Project contractor John Holland is due to deliver a draft remediation plan to the government shortly.
Transport for NSW said it would work through the plan to ensure it aligned with the EPA clean-up notice after which the finalised scheme would be shared publicly.