Newcastle City Council workers in Hazmat suits patrol Stockton beach daily for asbestos as new tip site uncovered

JUST when everyone thought it couldn’t get any bleaker, another old tip site has been uncovered by worsening erosion on Stockton beach leaching rubbish - including asbestos - into the sea.

Council workers, wearing Hazmat suits and masks, combed the popular coastal strip on Thursday morning collecting suspected pieces of asbestos washed ashore.

Angry residents – wearing nothing more than thongs and casual clothes - who have walked the same strip collecting bags of asbestos every day for weeks, questioned whether the beach was safe to use.

“It’s a really confronting sight to see council workers wearing protective suits walking the beach,” resident Shannon Hancock said.

“Think of the kids using the beach. It’s illegal for us to pick this stuff up and dump it in the bin because it’s dangerous, so it makes no sense that it’s alright for this to be littered all up the beach.

“Something needs to be done to address the cause of this, which is the erosion that is destroying the beach.”

Seven months after the Newcastle Herald revealed a large landfill had been uncovered by the suburb’s worsening erosion problem, another smaller, unrelated tip  – about 500 metres away - has been exposed near Mission Australia Early Learning Centre.

Old glass bottles, rusted metal and crockery are among the items discovered being washed into the sea.

Most of the rubbish is compressed within the embankment – several metres deep – with what appears to be asbestos jutting out.

The rubbish is littered along a few metres of the shoreline off Griffith Ave, with items scattered and half-buried in the sand. One of the bottles recovered was an old Peck’s Paste bottle believed to be dated between 1930 and 1950.

Mr Hancock said if the beach erosion had been addressed, the tip would never have been uncovered.

He is among a group of residents who walk the beach daily collecting historic rubbish and asbestos pieces that range from 40 centimetres in length to the size of a 50 cent coin.

Related reading: The garbage tip washing into the sea (January 20, 2018)

It’s believed the newly uncovered tip, near the site of the former Stockton Colliery No. 3 shaft, was used as an illegal dumping ground decades ago.

In 1955, the North Stockton Surf Life Saving clubhouse was built on the site, that is now used as the child-care centre that is under threat from erosion. It’s understood the land was previously owned by Housing Commission of NSW.

Long-term Stockton resident Jimmy Newton said the area around the old north Stockton surf club used to be part of the dune system leading to the beach.

He said people used to dump household rubbish in the salt bush where there were depressions.

DEADLY: A bucket full of asbestos pieces collected by resident Shannon Hancock from Stockton beach in the past five days. Some are up to 40-centimetres long.

DEADLY: A bucket full of asbestos pieces collected by resident Shannon Hancock from Stockton beach in the past five days. Some are up to 40-centimetres long.

“Decades and decades ago people used to get rid of their rubbish wherever they could, it’s probably a really old illegal dump,” he said. “There were old fibro houses in through that area that just got bulldozed into the ground, it’s impossible to know what would be in there or how big it is.”

A Newcastle City Council spokeswoman said staff wearing protective suits and masks would patrol the beach daily from Thursday to remove the asbestos. She said ten pieces of debris were collected on the first day and would be tested. 

“The potential asbestos containing pieces pose a very low public health risk and council is removing them on a daily basis to reduce the risk even further, allowing Stockton beach to remain open to the community,” she said.

“We do ask members of the public not to remove any of these pieces themselves as appropriate removal and disposal of any material will be undertaken by council staff.”

Stockton Community Action Group member Keith Craig said as the beach erosion gets worse, there was potential for more illegal tip sites to be exposed along the shoreline.

He said residents were “frustrated” at the what many perceived as a lack of action from the state government.

“People are suggesting we should take all the asbestos collected off the beach and dump it on [NSW Environment] Minister [Gabrielle] Upton’s doorstep,” he said. 

“The situation is going to get worse every time we get a big swell. This separate tip site appears to have asbestos in it and it’s very disturbing this stuff is now washing up at the main beach area.”

A spokesman for Minister Upton said the government had “consistently supported Newcastle City Council” in its work to manage the erosion problem. “The Government has supported the management and rehabilitation of Stockton beach for many years and is committed to helping the local community,” he said.

Save Stockton Beach spokesman Simon Jones, who has been campaigning to get Ms Upton to visit Stockton, said the government could not deny its stake in the environmental disaster.

DISGUSTED: Stockton resident Shannon Hancock at the site of another old tip site uncovered on Stockton beach. This smaller illegal tip site is located near Stockton child-care centre that is under threat from erosion. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

DISGUSTED: Stockton resident Shannon Hancock at the site of another old tip site uncovered on Stockton beach. This smaller illegal tip site is located near Stockton child-care centre that is under threat from erosion. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

“It appears they are doing everything they can to avoid the erosion issue,” he said. “We don’t know the extent of this new dump but its fairly close to the surface and it’s really concerning. 

“If someone was to come along with a truckload of asbestos and dump it on the beach the authorities would be all over it, but when its heritage waste and still ending up on the beach it doesn’t seem to matter.”

While they welcomed the council’s decision to patrol the beach, residents said it was not the solution to the problem.

“We need to look at the cause of this and it’s painfully obvious what that is,” Mr Hancock said. “I don’t understand how the authorities can watch this erosion happen.”

Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said he was “concerned” to hear that residents had been collecting asbestos off the beach for weeks. He said funding to address the beach erosion “had the potential to flow” to Stockton once the Newcastle Coastal Zone Management Plan had been completed by council and signed off by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

The draft plan, identifying short and medium-term solutions to address the erosion, is due to go before council next week for possible adoption and submission to the State government.

In December, the council removed Stockton from its coastal management plan, which proposes measures to address erosion along the coastline and is used to secure money from an $82 million state government funding pool. 

It came after OEH refused to sign off on an earlier version of the plan, which did address the Stockton erosion problems. 

After the new plan is approved, council will have another two years to lodge a coastal management program to address long-term solutions for the beach. Both plans will be used in an effort to attract funding.

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said it was an “absolute outrage” that the state government continued to “bury its head in the sand” on the issue. He said if residents were combing Bondi beach on a daily basis to collect asbestos there would be a “state emergency”.

An EPA spokeswoman said council was in charge of local waste, including asbestos on Stockton beach.

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