Michelle Lensink

Asbestos waste disposal

Questions to the Minister for Water - Asbestos waste disposal.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: My questions are to the Minister for Water:

1. Can the minister confirm that asbestos material is being stored at up to 31 SA Water
sites, some close to residential homes in what SA Water has said is a temporary measure?

2. Given this has been going for some time, can the minister advise why he has hidden
this fact from South Australian families and why they are only being notified of this toxic waste now?

3. Can the minister provide parliament with a list of the sites where SA Water stores the asbestos?

4. Can the minister advise how long this supposedly temporary measure will last and what steps have been taken to establish long-term storage or disposal options?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation,
Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): I thank the
honourable member for her most important question. As I say, it is important that the community, as
well as this place, understands the facts behind this before they run off and become terribly alarmist
with local communities.

The Hon. Michelle Lensink would never do that, of course—she is too responsible—but
others, some colleagues of hers, don't have the same sort of concern for the community and are all
too willing to go and stir up foment when it is not required. To give the honourable member some of
the information she has asked for, I can advise that approximately 45 per cent of the water distribution
pipes in SA Water's statewide distribution network are made of cement containing asbestos (I think
I have given that answer in this place previously to a question by the Hon. Mr Darley, perhaps about
12 months ago).

This is not an issue isolated to South Australia; it was a common construction material for
water pipes around the country, indeed probably around the world, but there are reports that would
indicate that there are approximately 40,000 kilometres of water pipelines containing asbestos right
across Australia. At times, sections of asbestos cement pipe need to be removed to allow for repairs
of water supply infrastructure—that should be no surprise to honourable members.

Recent licence notifications that have been made by the EPA are an attempt by the EPA to
formalise our long-held safe practices being undertaken by SA Water in regard to their pipe network.
The application, as I understand it, for the sites to become licensed in no way presents any increased
risk to the community of any sort. SA Water is not, I am advised (and is not proposing), undertaking
any asbestos processing or changing any of its existing safe practices in relation to asbestos cement
pipes.

Special precautions, I am advised—and, again, I think I have advised the chamber of these
in the past—are taken when repairs or maintenance is undertaken on these pipes to ensure worker
and public safety. These are in accordance, I am advised, with the Australian Code of Practice for
Managing Asbestos Containing Materials, the relevant work health and safety regulations.

I understand that removed sections of pipe are often taken to SA Water depots for temporary
storage prior to ultimate disposal. I am advised that the EPA has identified the need for all storage
locations, including those where materials are only stored temporarily, to be licensed as waste depots
under the Environment Protection Act 1993, and as such the EPA has a few bits of work it needs to
do under that legislation in advising the community. I believe it has advised through newspaper
advertisements on this issue.

The EPA has been proactively assessing existing asbestos regulations and strengthening
oversight where necessary. As part of this, I have been advised that the EPA has identified a need
to ensure that short-term storage, where it may be necessary to temporarily store potentially
asbestos-containing materials from works, is also licensed. So, licensing allows the EPA a better
ability to monitor the activity and to ensure that materials are being appropriately handled.

In response, I am advised that SA Water has recently applied for existing SA Water depot
locations to be licensed across the state. As part of this process, I understand the EPA is required to
write to all neighbours, as you would expect, of the storage locations to explain the nature of the
licence applications. This is both a legislative requirement but also just good practice.
I am advised that the public notice was placed—here we go—in The Advertiser and on the
EPA website on 26 October this year, and letters were sent to neighbouring properties of each site
over 25 and 26 October 2017. Public notifications and letters allow members of the community to
contact the EPA with any concerns they might have. I understand community comment is open until
10 November 2017. The EPA will then consider all submissions and comments before it makes a
decision regarding the applications by SA Water and the proposed conditions that might be placed
on them.

The repairs to asbestos cement pipes are carried out in both metropolitan and regional areas,
as you would expect, and they are often, particularly in terms of regional areas, a long way from an
EPA licensed landfill site. SA Water, Allwater and contractors have established standard work
procedures for handling asbestos cement pipes, and provide training to employees to ensure the
safety of maintenance personnel and the broader community. I am advised that asbestos-containing
pipes can stay on SA Water land for up to a month before being appropriately disposed of.

The EPA has advised that the material does not pose a public health risk as it has been
stored in compliance with work health and safety regulations; that is, the non-friable material has
been double wrapped, labelled prior to being transported to the SA Water depot and then stored in
a large bin with a closed lid.

It is important to reiterate that SA Water's applications are for the temporary storage of
asbestos-containing materials, such as old pipes, which will then be transferred to an appropriately
licensed landfill. It is not for long-term storage of the asbestos-containing material or for its treatment
or for any recycling. The EPA considers the current manner in which these materials are being
handled and stored to not be a risk to the workers, to the environment or to the wider community.

I am also advised that SA Water continues to transport and temporarily store asbestos in
accordance with all SafeWork safety requirements. The EPA, of course, under its legislation, is the
independent regulator and will be regulating SA Water, as they would any other company in this
state. I expect that they would apply the legislation in a normal regulatory fashion; that is, require
SA Water to conduct its business in a way that is in accordance with all health and safety
requirements of all legislation pertaining to the state.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Supplementary: will the minister undertake to provide
a full list of all the sites where asbestos is being stored under this process?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation,
Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): I understand
that is probably in the public realm already. The SA Water website, I believe, lists its depot sites. As
I said, there are 31 locations that have applied for these licences across the state. They are SA Water
depots. I will have it checked, but I believe that they are already all up on their website.

 

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