Frequently Asked Questions - Wickham Fire

We understand this is may be an anxious and uncertain time for many residents whose properties have been affected by asbestos debris following the Wool Store fire in Wickham on Tuesday 1 March. The Recovery Committee have prepared the following information in response to commonly asked questions.

Frequently asked questions

Asbestos fragments from the roof of the fire-damaged buildings have travelled to neighbouring areas as a result of the smoke plume caused by the fire.

We have received reports of suspected asbestos in Wickham, Islington, Maryville, Tighes Hill and Waratah. Specialised air monitoring equipment has been set up across all impacted areas, and monitoring will continue throughout the clean-up.

All air monitoring results to date have been below the limit of detection.

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 it can be removed safely by following these steps:

  1. Asbestos should be kept wet, or sprayed with PVA glue 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 debris.
  3. Access to the area must be limited to those involved in the asbestos 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. A surgical mask used for COVID safety won’t protect you.
  6. Put on the mask and gloves before starting the asbestos-containing debris clean-up.
  7. Pick up (don’t sweep) the wet asbestos and place in plastic bag.
  8. When finished remove gloves and face mask and place in plastic bag.
  9. Knot the top of the plastic bag and then place the knotted plastic bag into the second empty plastic bag and then knot 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. Asbestos waste can only be accepted at some landfill facilities. Contact the City of Newcastle for more information.
  14. Where visible debris is found and Public Works Advisory contractors are doing a clean-up in the area, you may supply this material to the contractor for lawful disposal.

DO NOT put asbestos waste in red-lid bins or skip bins that aren’t meant for asbestos waste. For information on how to dispose of asbestos waste visit the City of Newcastle Waste and Recycling A-Z.

SafeWork NSW has developed a series of videos on how to manage asbestos safely: visit https://bit.ly/3JesFLb.

If debris is found in public areas, please report it to the City of Newcastle via 02 4974 2000 or wickhamfire@ncc.nsw.gov.au

Clean-up is underway, and it is continuing to focus first on homes and public areas that have been most affected by debris. Over 600 properties have been cleaned since the incident.

Following the fire, Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW) conducted rapid assessments of the area to assess and help determine the extent of impact. You may have seen them walking the streets if you were at home. Based on information gathered from these FRNSW rapid assessments, and information reported from the community to Environment Line, we are continuing to prioritise the areas that have been classified as most impacted – those generally closest to the fire.

Residents had until Friday 13 May to register their property. If you reported suspected asbestos debris to the Environment Line you will be contacted shortly by the EPA. If your property requires inspection, an assessor will inspect your property and prepare a scope of works for cleaning any affected areas. Following this, a specialist asbestos removalist will be deployed to do any cleaning required.

The licensed asbestos assessor and specialist asbestos removalists need your permission to enter your property. Their role is to access, inspect and clean your property.

The environmental clean includes exterior areas of a property. The level of cleaning required depends on the concentration of asbestos-containing debris from the fire. This cleaning program will be assessed by your assigned licensed asbestos assessor and agreed with you before work commences at your property.

External areas of your property will be cleaned. This includes backyards, balconies, and gutters. The height limit for work on gutters has been determined by safe accessibility. Gutters up to 4.5 metres high can be cleaned. For more information on what clean-up your property may be eligible for, view this table.

The licensed asbestos assessor will inspect your property after the clean and provide you with a clearance certificate.

Step 1: Resident registers on EPA Environment Line phone 131 555 or email info@epa.nsw.gov.au.

Step 2: Public Works Advisory engages a Licensed Asbestos Assessor to undertake an assessment, and/or Class A Contractor to undertake visible ACD clean-up as required.

Step 3: Licensed asbestos assessor or cleaning contractor will contact you to arrange inspection.

Step 4: Site inspection with resident and asbestos assessor. Discussvisible ACD clean-up of exterior of property i.e. grassed areas, gardens, gutters.

Step 5: Asbestos assessor develops scope of what areas need to be cleaned or excluded. Scope provided to owner.

Step 6: Resident reviews and endorses scope register attached to Deed of Access and Deed of Release.

Step 7: Class A contractor undertakes ACD clean-up.

Step 8: ACD clean-up work completed. Class A contractor meets with resident to review work.

Step 9: Resident reviews ACD clean-up work and endorses completion. LAA issues Asbestos Clearance Certificate to resident.

View a graphic of this process (PDF).

All air monitoring results to date have been <0.01 fibres/mL which is below the limit of detection and consistent with normal background levels.

Airborne asbestos monitoring is undertaken using specialist portable sampling pumps fitted with filters which have been deployed across all the Wool Store Fire impact area, with monitoring to continue throughout the ACD clean-up.

A sample is collected by drawing a measured quantity of air through a membrane filter using a sampling pump. Any breathable fibres are then sized and counted in accordance with a technical criterion, using specialist laboratory equipment. The results are calculated as fibres per millilitre of air.

LAAs are responsible for airborne asbestos monitoring. The results are analysed at a laboratory accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australian (NATA).

Airborne asbestos monitoring around the immediate perimeter of the incident site, surrounding streets and suburbs was implemented on the morning of 2 March 2022. 

In addition, airborne asbestos monitoring was also undertaken around the perimeter of properties during ACD clean-up by Class A Contractors. These results have also returned results of less than the detection limit of 0.01 fibres/ml of air.

Hazmat Services Licensed Asbestos Assessors are responsible for air monitoring. The results are analysed at a laboratory accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australian (NATA).

Air monitoring will continue throughout the clean-up. View the daily monitoring report.

The EPA, City of Newcastle and Public Works Advisory engaged specialists who started the clean-up.

In New South Wales under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 the polluter is responsible for cleaning up following a pollution incident. In some emergencies, like this one, clean-up action must start as soon as possible to protect public health and safety and not wait for the responsible entity be identified and to pay.

If residents have concerns, they may wish to engage their own asbestos specialist to do an assessment. If you choose to engage a private assessor you are responsible for these costs. You may wish to speak to your insurer. An accredited asbestos removalist can be contacted through the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (02) 8586 3555

City of Newcastle was leading the clean-up of public roadways to keep them open. 

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, 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.

Cleaning of any schools impacted was organised by the Department of Education under its own asbestos management plans. This was done to ensure that essential facilities were back up and running to avoid disruption to the community.

Different methods may have been used to get these facilities cleaned and opened as soon as possible.

NSW Health has provided advice on the health impacts associated with the fire. The risk of adverse health outcomes is dependent on the number of asbestos fibres breathed in and is generally associated with continued exposure to a large number of fibres over long periods of time, more so than ‘one-off’ events.

During and since the fire, there has been prolonged rainfall, which has helped prevent fibres from becoming airborne. Information from FRNSW rapid assessment reports indicates that asbestos-containing debris from the fire that landed on properties was fragments of non-friable asbestos cement debris, with some loose fibres.

The wetting of debris, either by hoses or by rain, has helped prevent fibres from becoming airborne.

Based on airborne asbestos monitoring and site assessments, there is no evidence to indicate that the community has been exposed to significant airborne asbestos fibres from the fire. 

The risk of adverse health outcomes is dependent on the amount of asbestos fibres breathed in and is generally associated with continued exposure to a large numbers of fibres over long periods of time - usually in occupational settings.

Exposure to asbestos from disturbing asbestos-containing material may pose health risks. It is strongly recommended that a licensed asbestos removalist is used to assess and remove asbestos safely from your property.

If you are concerned about material that might be asbestos at your home, there are simple steps you can take

  • keep materials wet
  • stay indoors and keep windows shut
  • do not disturb the suspected asbestos materials.

Comprehensive information regarding removal of asbestos is available on the NSW Government website.

You may wish to contact your insurance company who can provide advice about your specific circumstances.

Residents who have reported their property to Environment Line may receive a visit from a licensed asbestos assessor. To clean and remove any asbestos from your property they will need your permission by signing the Public Works Advisory Deed of Access Agreement. You will be given a hard copy Deed of Access Agreement from the Public Works Advisory and you may have received an email containing the Deed. The Deed has been used in similar situations where properties require clean-up following an incident, for example in the bushfire clean-up.

To assist you in understanding some of the key clauses, please see below:

I/We consent to Public Works Advisory and other relevant NSW Government agencies and each of their contractors, subcontractors, officers, employees, agents, consultants, advisers and any other person acting for or on their behalf (Associates) entering the Property for the purposes of undertaking the following (Activities) relating to property damage associated with fire damage associated with the Wickham Wool Shed Fire that may include the following:

  • inspecting the Property in company with the owner or the owner’s representative;
  • doing the agreed scope of environmental remediation works and other relevant activities on the Property as recorded in the Scope Register.

This is requesting the owner to provide the contractor access and to agree (or not) to the scope of works proposed by the assessor. Cleaning of properties can only be carried out where owners have signed this document. Community members may choose to engage their own private contractor.

I/We acknowledge that Public Works Advisory and other relevant NSW Government agencies:

  • have no legal liability for the presence of any asbestos in the Property; and
  • have no legal duty to perform the Activities.

This means that Public Works Advisory and other Government agencies did not cause the pollution and are not responsible. In New South Wales under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 the polluter is responsible for cleaning up following a pollution incident. As community safety is paramount, we have organised to clean-up impacted properties.

Returning the Public Works Advisory Deed of Access Agreement

Some of you may have registered your email with the EPA when you reported your property and received an electronic copy. You can sign and return a copy via email after an assessor has visited your property and determined a scope of works. It can also be signed and given to the assessor in hard copy during their visit.