Action News 1997 ISSN 1324-6011
Case Study - Demolition
in a Residential Area
by Elizabeth OBrien, Coordinator
The LEAD Group is a community group which was founded in 1991 by three families concerned about lead emissions from a lead and aluminium manufacturing plant in inner western Sydney. Soil in a residential property owned by the plant and adjacent to the plant was found to have 16,600 parts per million lead, or more than 50 times more than the "investigation level". The "investigation level" is the only action level in NSW - it means that the result is above 300 parts per million lead and the sources of lead should be investigated. A blood lead survey of fifty 1-4 year old children in the area found that 50% of them had a blood lead level above what is now called the national goal (10 micrograms per decilitre).
Six years later, The LEAD Group Inc runs the NSW Community Lead Advisory Service (CLAS) from an office in Summer Hill, and the owners of the lead manufacturing plant have moved to an industrial park. So after 116 years of operation, all the plant and equipment has been shifted and the buildings are currently being demolished.
In early 1996 residents of the 3 streets which form the boundary of the plant site founded the Summer Hill Local Environment Group (SHLEG) when the proposal to build town houses on the site was put before council. Elizabeth OBrien from The LEAD Group spoke to the residents group and many submissions were made to Ashfield Council to ensure, among other things, that the demolition and site remediation would be done in a way which did not contaminate nearby properties and stormwater with the asbestos, lead and other contaminants known to be on the site. The conditions to be placed on the works were negotiated between the consultants hired by the developer to manage the work, the company lawyers, the council and the residents, over several meetings. The LEAD Group proposed the conditions:
The general response amongst the vociferous Councillors at the meeting was that cradle to grave management such as this was a laughable matter, and they were doing well to have considered the communitys concerns at all.
Then in early 1997, the complaints began to roll into CLAS from callers in the area.
Consultants who drilled through concrete for core sampling of the soil, told a resident who was concerned for an asthmatic family member about the concrete dust, that she was "hysterical".
A month later, on Monday 24th February, SHLEG organisers had to call a Council officer out to stop work on the first day of demolition when it was observed that the workers were unprotected from roof dusts, having neither respirators nor protective clothing. No residents had ever been given a copy of the demolition conditions so it was guesswork as to what they stipulated. The LEAD Group took precisely one month to extract a copy out of the Council, having first been told it was not a public document. It was then evident that the demolition conditions were determined by Council on 10th March, two weeks after the demolition had begun.
On the 21st March another resident obtained an extract of the "Remediation Action Plan for Proposed Townhouse Development", prepared by an environmental management consultancy. The Council had determined as one of its demolition conditions that:
...3. All demolition works are to be in accordance with a report prepared by [the environmental management consultancy ie the "Remediation Action Plan (RAP)"]...
The resident claimed that several practices "promised" in the "RAP" had not been occurring:
The "RAP" said: "Dust will be suppressed at all times
during the works". The resident lived a block from the site and complained that his
daughter was suffering asthma badly as a result of the dust from the demolition.
The RAP said: "Demolition and site rehabilitation activities are anticipated to extend over a period of several months, with demolition work commencing mid March 1997." The residents knew the demolition of the roof had begun on 24th February, 1997. At that time "they were pulling tin off the roof and throwing it on the ground".
The RAP is not a public document and a copy must be requested from the developer, or sought under the Freedom of Information Act, which could take longer to obtain than the work itself takes.
The Conditions determined by Council for the Development Application stipulated that residents would be notified about the demolition. However, when a resident with three children under 5 living practically next door to the site, complained that he had not been notified of the demolition, the Council agreed that he should have been notified but that there was nothing the Council could do now.
The same resident is particularly concerned to know what will happen when the concrete slab comes up. The concrete presumably covers old contaminated soil from the first 8-10 decades of the plants operations. He asked the Council who was responsible for ensuring that any monitoring of dust in air etc, promised in the RAP, is actually happening, and that the information is being acted upon. The Council said the EPA would be responsible. When CLAS asked the EPA contact officer on 22nd April, he said he would ask the company that wrote the RAP if there were any results and whether he could be given a copy.
The LEAD Group is concerned that the only dust in air standard available to compare the results to is designed to protect workers exposed to the dust for 8 hours per day. The standard is not designed to protect more sensitive populations such as pre-schoolers, asthmatics or older people with cardiac or respiratory problems. The workers dust level is also not a good measure of how much toxic dust may be escaping the demolition site and contaminating neighbouring properties.
On April 24th, the EPA contact person from the Contaminated Sites section rang CLAS to say that he now had some results of dust monitoring carried out by the consultants to the developer. (Is there not a conflict of interest when the developer pays the consultants to provide proof of adequate dust control which the consultants have written the RAP for?)
The dust monitoring results were not able to be released to the public because the developer had paid for them. However, the EPA contact person was able to say that he was satisfied that the results of dust monitoring, which were carried out in three discreet weeks, did not vary significantly from week to week. And since the first week was prior to the start of demolition work, the demolition work clearly did not add to the amount of dust falling on the two monitoring stations at the Morris St gate and on the fence line. However, when we got to discussing the actual dates of testing, it turned out that the "background level" (pre-demolition level) was determined in the week of 26th March to 2nd April, more than a month after the residents claim the demolition work began (14th February). The EPA contact person argued that on the day he inspected the site, 15th March, he "noticed no demolition or at least no significant demolition [had occurred]". We then discussed whether there was an action level to which the dust monitoring results could be compared. He said "the particular test used was designed to provide a long term comparison of total suspended particulates (TSP) and the method was acceptable to the EPA, it gives results in grams per square metre per month, but the EPA does not have a number [an action level] to compare the results to." He said he would suggest to the consultant that they use a method which uses a high volume sampler to suck the air in and calculates the amount of dust trapped by the air sucked in over 4 or 8 hours. The result is in grams per cubic metre and can be compared to a standard which the EPA has some jurisdiction over. We lamented that the demolition work was over.
Another resident looked for the "water spray equipment" promised in the RAP, and found nothing but a broken water main washing grey dust down the street in the gutter. Would this not be in contravention of the Clean Waters Act administered by the EPA? In mid April the demolition workers were still wearing shorts even though the RAP said: "Long trousers and long-sleeve shirts will be worn by all workers at all times."
The Demolition Conditions determined by Council did not stipulate that the work had to be done by a licensed demolition company even though all demolition companies in NSW were supposed to have had a WorkCover licence, as of August 1996. Even a company which has applied for a licence is not permitted to undertake demolition work until the licence is approved. On 22nd April the WorkCover Authority was notified of the name of the demolition company, and promised to attend the site as the company was not licensed. WorkCover had apparently publicised the need for licences amongst demolition companies and their professional association, but the EPA officer who advised Council on the appropriateness of the RAP did not know, as Council apparently did not, that the demolition contractor had to be licensed. The Council officer said she would have expected to have been informed by WorkCover Authority when it reviewed the RAP, if the demolition company required a licence. WorkCover later told CLAS that under the new regulations, WorkCover is not required to review work plans.
The day after the WorkCover visit, when the building had already been levelled, residents noticed for the first time two signs saying: "Danger - Demolition in Progress" and "Hard hats to be worn in this area". Water spray equipment had materialised - a man was holding a hose. When CLAS called WorkCover we were informed that although the demolition company which had been given the demolition permit by the Council was not licensed (the company had applied for a demolition licence) the company was nevertheless permitted to carry out the work because it had recently changed its name (why?) and there were competent persons in the previous company who were licensed to do demolition work and were apparently still with the new company.
We were also advised that the demolition of an industrial building which is less than 10 metres tall, and in which the work will be done by hand, ie without machinery, does not require a demolition license. Also, the removal of up to 200 square metres of bonded asbestos material (eg fibro cement) does not require an asbestos abatement licence.
The lead plant demolition case is obviously continuing, but this article was put together at this time to help other community groups gear up for the "demolition conditions" process in their area, notably the Royal Alexandria Childrens Hospital with its two declared contaminated sites and 13 asbestos sites will have demolition works being put out for tender (by the Department of Public Works) this year. Also in Leichhardt Council area, an ex-iron foundry site has had a housing development approved, and presumably the lead, zinc and copper contaminated site will require some demolition first. Residents have been refused the results of the consultants site assessment because they are owned by the developer. Two of the directors of the developer company are councillors on Leichhardt Council but only one of them abstained from the voting on the development application.
LATE NEWS: On April 23rd The LEAD Group Inc asked Ashfield Councils Manager of Planning and Building for a complete copy of the RAP, after being told by Council staff that we could only view and take notes from the document at the Council, it would not be permissible to take a copy away. The Manager organised that a copy of the full approximately 120 page report be placed in Ashfield Library and one in The LEAD Groups library and that a relevant 22 page extract be distributed to interested persons. The Manager also committed Council to organising a small consultative group by the end of the week, of residents, the developer, consultants, Council, SHLEG and The LEAD Group Inc. We are most gratified that the communitys concerns will be heard. By 9th May no further news was available on this matter, but The LEAD Groups library had received a complete copy of the RAP.
The LEAD Group has a vision that people will reduce their use of toxic substances when they realise that toxic substances dont just disappear off the edge of the earth, because the earth is not flat; that toxic particulates put into the air by industry, medical incinerators and motor vehicles, etc, stick around in building dusts and soils until contained and continuously managed. So while taxpayers and ratepayers are paying for several government departments and the Council to manage the lead plant demolition, and actually having to do the surveillance work themselves, the industry which made the profits from selling lead for more than a century pays nothing, and developers can refuse residents important information on the basis of owning copyright.
Consumers should continuously ask themselves: Which toxic consumer product can I not buy? Residents should continuously ask their politicians: When is Polluter Pays legislation coming to NSW? When will lead production be taxed federally and when will the federal lead petrol tax be distributed to help the states cover the costs of leads cradle-to-grave management? When will we have Toxics Use Reduction Legislation and Community-Right-To-Know? When will government departments coordinate their responses to the vast array of legislation which impacts on the management of lead?
The NSW Community Lead Advisory Service is looking forward to working with the NSW EPAs Lead Reference Centre in order to achieve as much of the above as possible, as soon as possible.
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Updated 16 January 2013