Asbestos risk eases as clean-up continues

Hidden risk ... thousands of fibro-designed houses like these are vulnerable to wild weather.
Hidden risk ... thousands of fibro-designed houses like these are vulnerable to wild weather.

THE threat of asbestos from buildings ripped up by storms along the coast eased on Monday after sites at Kiama and Sydney's east were inspected by WorkCover and government officials.

But it remains a hidden risk in tens of thousands of buildings that are vulnerable to wild weather. The Master Builders Association says about a third of the houses in NSW contain asbestos, including about two-thirds of structures built before the 1980s.

That was the case at the Malabar RSL in Sydney, which had its roof torn off early on Sunday, sending fragments of asbestos cladding spinning into nearby streets and backyards.

Specialist crews vacuumed up all visible scraps, in a joint operation run by Randwick council.

Fire and Rescue NSW Hazmat crews cleaned the roads and police blocked off Ireton, Victoria and Prince Edward streets and Bilga Crescent in Malabar on Sunday.

WorkCover waived the usual five-day waiting period and licensed the immediate clean-up, and urged any residents with concerns about debris to contact it or the council. The heavy rainfall appears to have stopped loose fibres from being transported far by air.

The massive scale of the asbestos problem is highlighted by the vast effort put into trying to control the substance, it said.

''During 2012 WorkCover NSW received 7495 notifications from licensed asbestos removalists for the removal of bonded or friable asbestos,'' a spokesman said. ''WorkCover also received 5447 notifications for demolition work, the majority of which would have also involved asbestos removal work.''

Data from the NSW Environment Protection Authority shows a big rise in the amount of asbestos being transported to landfill since new regulations came into force in 2007.

Altogether, 209,436 tonnes of asbestos-laced material was received at licensed landfill sites around the state in the year to July, a spokeswoman for the EPA said. In the previous year, 240,064 tonnes was buried in landfill, and the year before that, 114,608 tonnes.

Most asbestos in homes is safe and inert if not disturbed.

This story Asbestos risk eases as clean-up continues first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.