No timeline for Liverpool West Public School after asbestos mulch used instead of soil

Remediation at a Sydney school which has been riddled with asbestos-contaminated mulch could take “a number of weeks,” as specialists rush to check whether the contamination has spread into the soil.

On February 11, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) confirmed the presence of bonded mulch at Liverpool West Public School in Sydney’s west, with more than 600 students moved to Gilyangarri Public School.

Appearing at budget estimates on Tuesday, the NSW Education Minister Prue Car said the site required a larger operation after it was revealed the contractor incorrectly used the mulch in the garden beds, in place of soil.

“We couldn’t remove the amount of mulch that needed to be removed. Because there was no soil it was used as fill which goes against what should be done,” she said.

“So it takes a number of weeks.”

Ms Car said as it stands, she could not say when the project would be finished, however it could take “number of weeks” before students are allowed back on the site.

NSW Department of Education secretary Murat Dizdar said while initial advice said removal of the asbestos would take just two days, the timeline was significantly extended.

Questions were also posed about whether the mulch had contaminated the surrounding soil, with Mr Dizdar adding that there was “more than mulch being removed at the school site”.

While the exact figure of how much mulch was used in the school was not confirmed, School Infrastructure NSW associate chief executive Paul Towers said the figure could be in the range of several thousands of cubic metres.

Mr Towers said testing would involve in-ground testing and air-monitoring to ensure the “environment is not affected by the fragments”.

“The volume of material taken out probably includes more than just mulch to ensure there’s no cross contamination of the soil from the mulch,” he said.

Ms Car maintained that the government will continue to investigate whether there was a breach in contractual obligations undertaken by the contractor.

“We all agree with each other they there may have been a serious break in contractual arrangements and the departpent, upon my request, will ensure that all contractual obligations have been met, and there are penalties if there needs to be penalties,” she said.

Traces of asbestos-contaminated mulch have been found at four additional schools so far. including Allambie Heights Public School, Domremy College, Liverpool West Public School, Penrith Christian School, and St Luke’s Catholic College.

On Tuesday, both friable and bonded asbestos were found in six more sites, including Bicentennial Park 1 in Glebe. Friable asbestos is the more dangerous form of the substance as the fibres are not contained and can become airborne.

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