Wickham Fire Incident

Page last updated: Thursday 21 July 2022, 1.00pm

The clean-up following a large fire at the Wickham Wool Store is now complete.

On Tuesday 1 March 2022 emergency services attended a fire at a storage facility (Old Wool store) on Annie Street, Wickham.

Asbestos containing debris from the fire damaged roof of the Wool Store buildings travelled to neighbouring areas as a result of the smoke plume caused by the fire.

A Local Recovery Committee was established to coordinate the clean-up of public domain areas and private residences impacted by the fire. The Committee was coordinated by City of Newcastle, and included Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), Public Works Advisory, NSW Health and SafeWork NSW.

The Local Recovery Committee developed a detailed Emergency Asbestos Management Plan which outlines the impact of the event and the clean-up process.

On behalf of the Local Recovery Committee, we would like to thank the local community, contractors and consultants and government partners who have contributed to the clean-up.

All public domain areas (parks, footpaths, roads, playgrounds, community gardens, sporting fields etc) have been cleaned to remove asbestos containing debris and cleared by Licensed Asbestos Assessors.

A total of 687 homes impacted by asbestos containing debris have been assessed, cleaned and given clearance. The clean-up of private residences is now complete.

The clean-up of the Wool Stores site was the responsibility of the building owner and is also now complete, including demolition of the fire damaged buildings and removal of asbestos containing debris.

Air monitoring during the clean-up

An extensive daily air monitoring program was undertaken during the clean-up from March to July 2022. All air monitoring results collected since the fire have been <0.01 fibres/mL which is below the limit of detection and consistent with normal background levels.

This means that there is no evidence to indicate that the community has been exposed to respirable airborne asbestos fibres above normal background levels from the Wool Store fire.

Air monitoring was undertaken daily in a range of locations while clean-up activities were underway, and ceased when the clean-up was finished in July 2022. More detailed information on air monitoring results is available.

Now that clean-up activities are complete, the daily air monitoring program has also ended.

Long-term air monitoring plan

A long-term air monitoring program will now be implemented. Under this program further reassurance asbestos air monitoring will be conducted to confirm there is no increase above background asbestos levels in the impacted area and surrounding vicinity.

This monitoring will only be undertaken when weather conditions are present that would be most likely to disturb any asbestos fibres.

This monitoring program will provide ongoing reassurance to the community by monitoring the surrounding area impacted by the fire throughout the rest of 2022 and into 2023 as the weather begins to warm and/or become increasingly dry.

For more information on the long-term air monitoring program including methodology, testing protocol and reporting, view the Wickham Wool Store Fire Long-Term Air Monitoring Plan.

What can I do if I find fragments of asbestos on my property?

As with other areas that have been cleaned and given clearance, it is possible for the occasional fragment to be reintroduced into the area from vehicles, falling from trees, or from neighbouring properties.

If asbestos-containing debris is found on private property, using a licensed asbestos assessor is the best way to remove the material. To find a licenced asbestos assessor visit https://verify.licence.nsw.gov.au/

If you choose to remove the asbestos-containing debris yourself, please follow the process below which has been developed in conjunction with SafeWork NSW and NSW Health.

  1. Asbestos should be kept wet or sprayed with PVA, or a similar sealant to suppress the potential release of asbestos fibres.
  2. Don’t use high pressure water cleaners or water blasters to clean up the visible ACD.
  3. Access to the area must be limited to those involved in the ACD clean-up.
  4. Obtain 2 thick plastic bags, disposable plastic gloves or washing up gloves.
  5. Obtain a P2 face mask from the hardware store.
  6. Put on the mask and gloves before starting the ACD clean-up.
  7. Pick up (don’t sweep) the wet ACD and place in plastic bag.
  8. When finished remove gloves and face mask and place in plastic bag.
  9. Knot or seal the top of the plastic bag and then place the sealed plastic bag into the second empty plastic bag and then knot or seal the top.
  10. Clearly label the bag as asbestos.
  11. Wash and clean hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  12. Keep asbestos waste separated from all other waste.
  13. DO NOT put asbestos waste in red-lid bins or skip bins that aren’t meant for asbestos waste. Note: Until 31 July 2022 small amounts of asbestos fragments can be disposed of in safe disposal bins that are temporarily installed at Waratah Park and Islington Park. These bins are available for use between 8am and 1pm, Monday to Friday only. At Islington Park, the bin can be found behind the toilet block. At Waratah Park the bin can be found at the main entrance gate. Gloves and sealed plastic bags will be available at these bins. Contents of the bins will be collected and safely disposed of by Licensed Asbestos Removal Contractors.
  14. Do not use these bins for the disposal of asbestos materials from renovations or other building work. Materials collected can be safely disposed of at Summerhill Waste Management Centre following the usual protocol.

How can I report asbestos fragments in public spaces?

It is important to remember that as with other areas that have been cleaned and given clearance, it is possible for the occasional fragment to be reintroduced into the area from vehicles or falling from trees.

In the unlikely event that asbestos fragments are found in public domain areas (e.g. streets, paths, parks), this should continue to be reported to City of Newcastle by phone 02 4974 2000 or by emailing wickhamfire@ncc.nsw.gov.au so that the area can be listed for inspection and re-cleaning if necessary.

Community updates

Our Community updates page outlines information that has been shared with residents and businesses since the fire.

Useful Links

NSW EPA

https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/

NSW Public Works

https://www.publicworksadvisory.nsw.gov.au/

NSW Health - Asbestos & Health Risks

https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/factsheets/Pages/asbestos-and-health-risks.aspx