Asbestos nightmare for SJ Shire

Asbestos nightmare for SJ Shire

The Watkins Rd Transfer Station has been closed indefinitely after widespread asbestos was found.

The situation at the Watkins Rd Waste Transfer Station appears to be more dire than first thought.

The tip was shut down indefinitely on Friday, October 6, after asbestos was discovered.

The first contamination was found below the surface in the green waste processing section of the site in September by Environmental Risk Consultants.

They were employed by the shire to check the lay of the land before drainage works were due to start in October to prevent potentially-contaminated stormwater runoff onto the nearby reserve.

The Watkins Rd Tip has been classed as a ‘Contaminated Site – Possibly Contaminated’ by the state government since 2008.

That section was then cordoned off.

On October 3, SJ Shire officers also found what they suspected were fragments of asbestos across a wider area of the tip site, including near the Reuse Shop.

Suspect surface fragments were found after a site inspection by Talis Consultants on October 5.

The samples are being tested and results will be back this week.

“However, the consultants were confident that the fragments were asbestos and raised concern in relation to the extent of the contamination,” shire officers wrote in their ‘urgent business’ report to council.

Talis’ initial findings are damning and suggest that the problem is not going to be an easy fix:

“There are also a range of areas onsite that have previously been covered and are likely to contain ACM [asbestos] and other potential contaminants (not the subject of this investigation).”

“Given this, we would suggest that activity onsite has the potential to create further asbestos risk. The fragments themselves do not necessarily reflect a significant concern, but where vehicular movements and equipment is used onsite, this has the potential to mobilise asbestos fibres. To this end, we would suggest that all public access to the site is immediately prohibited and any workers onsite have their activities restricted and are provided with appropriate PPE. Ideally, the site will be closed to all activity, pending further discussion/advice,” the consultants said.

Shire officers have concluded that the tip will need to remain shut for an “extended period”.

“The site will need to be closed until an asbestos management plan and remediation methodology is developed and approved by the shire and state government authorities and the site is remediated. As per the contaminated sites information, it is important for the shire to now also complete the soil and underground water testing that was previously required by DWER. The length of closure will be better known once further information becomes available regarding the scale of remediation and state government approval process,” shire officers wrote in their report.

Signs have been placed on the Watkins Road Waste Transfer Station to notify residents of its indefinite closure.

One of the biggest questions in the short-term management of the situation, is how ratepayers can now dispose of their bulk waste – especially highly flammable fuel loads of green waste in preparation for bushfire season.

On Monday the issue was brought as ‘urgent business’ to the council meeting – the last before Saturday’s elections.

A range of options was presented to council including restarting verge collections, and issuing tailor-made City of Armadale tip passes to be billed back to the SJ Shire at the end of each month.

Although restarting green waste verge collection in such a short timeframe would be a logistical nightmare for staff, and ultimately cost more money, this was the officers’ preferred option.

Residents could place unrestricted amounts of green waste out on their verges, with the higher volumes being collected also helping to mitigate bushfire risk.

It was deemed that this would be the option most residents would prefer too, especially those without trailers.

Officers calculated that this service could cost $185 per tonne to collect and transport, and $80 to process.

If 400 tonnes were collected, this would equate to approximately $106,000.

Officers noted that there wasn’t the same sense of urgency applied to collecting hard waste. But they suggested that some provision needed to be made to ratepayers while the tip remains closed.

“Given the short timeframe to implement the service and also because the service would only be applicable until January 2024, the only viable option available for the shire for bulk waste is the use of City of Armadale tip passes,” they said.

An estimated 1000 tonnes of waste dumped at the CoA facility between November and January would cost the shire approximately $140,000.

They recommended that two tip passes be allocated to each household.

“In the unlikely worst-case scenario that all households issued with tip passes take up both bulk passes singularly, this option would cost the shire $1.44 million for bulk waste tip passes and $106,000 for the green waste verge collection,” they said, but noted that this was unlikely, with around 35 percent of households actually using their tip passes in neighbouring local government areas.

At Monday’s meeting there was no discussion, and councillors voted unanimously in line with the shire officers’ recommendations.

Green waste verge collection will begin in mid-November, but shire president Michelle Rich has said this will only be a temporary measure, with longer-term measures being investigated once a full impact report is received about the asbestos contamination.

“We are very aware that the fire season is looming,” she said.

“With a couple of fires over the past weekend council decided the best course of action would be to offer residents a green waste verge collection as soon as possible, minimising our fire risk and ensuring all residents could access the service.”

“In addition, we will also be providing all households within the shire two tip passes for bulk waste disposal which can be used at Armadale Tip. The tip passes will expire on 31 January 2024.”