New asbestos find in Rozelle a ‘nightmare’, says local mayor

<span>Contaminated mulch found in the new Rozelle parkland has also been discovered in flowerbeds at the Rozelle interchange.</span><span>Photograph: Supplied</span>
Contaminated mulch found in the new Rozelle parkland has also been discovered in flowerbeds at the Rozelle interchange.Photograph: Supplied

More friable asbestos has been found in Rozelle, where the contamination crisis was sparked more than a month ago, prompting concerns from the local mayor about the speed and thoroughness of remediation works.

The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA) announced a further seven sites across greater Sydney had tested positive for asbestos over the past 24 hours, taking the total to 54 since 10 January.

Related:Ex-senior watchdog staffer says NSW asbestos crisis ‘destined to happen’ after decade of regulatory failure

Among the positive test results was a piece of friable asbestos in a garden bed at the Rozelle interchange. Transport for NSW has fenced off the site.

“Removal of mulch in the area has begun and is expected to take several nights,” an EPA spokesperson said.

The Inner West council’s mayor, Darcy Byrne, said the discovery of more asbestos in mulch at the Rozelle interchange site, when the remediation of the area was due to be completed by the end of the month, was an indication the works were not on track.

“We were assured that all testing in Rozelle was completed and that the contaminated mulch at sites along Victoria Road was going to be removed before now,” he said.

“This is outrageous and a direct consequence of these contractors not taking responsibility and properly resourcing the urgent cleanup of this toxic mess.”

He said the “nightmare is far from over in Rozelle”.

Last month the EPA issued a clean-up notice to the transport department as the agency in charge of the Rozelle parklands as part of the government’s $3.9bn Rozelle interchange project.

The EPA ordered the department to remove all recycled mulch from the precinct by the end of February.

Byrne also raised concerns about the upcoming biennale at the White Bay power station.

He said it “could become the latest victim of the asbestos crisis if Rozelle parklands is not reopened in the immediate future”, after the cancellation of the Mardi Gras party Fair Day earlier in the month due to asbestos contamination in Surry Hills.

Works had been affected by rainfall but the department was hoping for a “staged reopening” of the parklands from March, according to a Transport for NSW spokesperson.

“Transport for NSW and our joint venture partner John Holland CPB remain committed to completely and safely removing and replacing the affected mulch from the park and returning the site to the community as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

The discovery comes after Guardian Australia revealed construction and demolition waste had also been discovered in mulch tested as part of the investigation. EPA documents revealed “foreign materials”, along with asbestos, were found in mulch used at the Rozelle parklands.

Related: Asbestos mulch locations: full list and map of sites in Sydney where asbestos has been found

The state government has formed a taskforce to oversee remediation and contact tracing. More than 130 EPA investigators are also working on the case.

On Thursday, the EPA also announced bonded asbestos was also found at the Westmead Children’s hospital, the Jubilee and Bicentennial parks in Glebe, Observatory Hill park at Millers Point, Oran Park fire station and Mont Saint Quentin oval in Bardia.

Bonded asbestos is considered lower risk than friable asbestos because it is mixed with a hard material such as concrete, meaning hazardous particles were less likely to become airborne.

The federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, on Thursday morning said it was a “real concern” that asbestos was still being found in parks.

“It’s obviously a huge concern, and I know that there are a lot of parents out there …who are following this very closely and very carefully, “ she told Nine.

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