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Council content to “emu-pick” asbestos fragments

By Mike O’Connor

Brisbane City Council has said that it has found “possible asbestos containing material” in the Powerhouse Park at New Farm.

The council conducted a number of tests of the parkland soil following claims by residents that coal dust had been found in the park which was the site of the coal dump which fuelled the Powerhouse’s electricity generators. Coal ash was also stored on the site.

Records show that tests carried out by the council in 1997 found asbestos sheeting and asbestos lagging buried 80cm below ground level.

In response letter to residents’ concerns, a council officer has said that while fragments of possible asbestos containing material had been recently found on the surface of the park, a contaminated land team did not plan to undertake a detailed site investigation of Powerhouse Park until the next financial year.

This means that no comprehensive assessment of the contaminated land and health risk status of the park will be made until sometime after June 30.

In the meantime, council staff will conduct what it described as “emu picks” of fragments of possible asbestos containing material from the surface of the park.

The recent discovery of a small amount of asbestos in a commercial compost stockpile at Ipswich triggered an urgent inspection by the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation and the Asbestos Safety Unit of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and the testing of 23 landfill operations, transfer stations, landscape suppliers, composters, and mulch suppliers across South East Queensland.

The council has said that the results of the detailed investigation later in the year will determine what future action it will take in regard to possible remediation works but says that it does not believe the park currently presents an immediate or acute risk to park users based on the data from the previous investigations.

The council officer said it was believed the possible asbestos material originated from the demolition of buildings on site or was mixed in with the soil cover brought to the site in the 1970s and 1980s.

When the Powerhouse was decommissioned and the coal removed, contaminants remained and were buried on site.

Council says its records suggest South East Queensland Electricity Board removed the coal and ash stockpiles from Powerhouse Park in 1971, leaving a residual layer of coal and ash across the park, and then imported soil fill material from multiple locations around Brisbane and used it to cover it for the creation of the current Powerhouse Park.

A spokesperson for the Lord Mayor’s office was only able to confirm that the Department of Environment and Science representatives attended Powerhouse Park on 28 November 2023 following a resident complaint and advised that no non-compliances were identified relating to exposure of contaminates.

They said on December 1, 2023, Council checked and did not locate any asbestos on the surface of the park.

Department of Environment and Science representatives met with the complainant at the park 17 January 2024 to discuss their findings.

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