Asbestos scare closes quarry

An aerial view of the Monkland Quarry where naturally occurring asbestos has been found.
An aerial view of the Monkland Quarry where naturally occurring asbestos has been found. Craig Warhurst

AN asbestos scare has closed Gympie Regional Council’s Monkland quarry.

Following a site visit by Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) Mines Inspectorate, operations were suspended at the Laurenceson Road site on August 6.

Mayor Ron Dyne told The Gympie Times yesterday asbestos had been found at the site previously and dealt with by council staff.

Cr Dyne said staff would normally extract and bury small amounts of the naturally-occurring asbestos in a safe area.

But this time, the DEEDI has told council to take remedial action to protect workers at the mine handling products and the general public, after a QUT study confirmed the rare substance was asbestos.

“Workplace Health and Safety have said any occurrence (of asbestos) is unacceptable,” Cr Dyne said.

Council has known there were small levels of asbestos at the site for 10 years. Now, fibres have been found in air-conditioning dust filters.

At this stage there are no concerns about staff health, and staff who were working at the quarry have now been redeployed in other roles, Cr Dyne said.

As well as closing the quarry indefinitely, DEEDI has ordered council not to use any product sourced from the site until given the all clear.

A council report, to be presented at a meeting next week, said council needed to improve dust monitoring and asbestos spotting practices.

But Mayor Ron Dyne said the amount of asbestos found was minimal and council didn’t consider the asbestos a problem and had dealt with it in the past.

“We’re talking grams in tonnes of rock,” he said yesterday.

But workplace health and safety have advised council any contamination was prohibited.

Cr Dyne said workers at the Monkland quarry were under constant testing. New employees’ lungs are x-rayed before starting work and ongoing monitoring was done to identify if any asbestos had been ingested.

Cr Dyne said so far there had been no recorded ingestion of asbestos.

Council will now need to source rock and other material from outside sources until it can be determined whether the levels of asbestos present are a risk and a clean-up of rock containing asbestos can be completed.

“It will be an added cost,” Cr Dyne said.

“We believed we had it contained before.”

Cr Dyne also had no concerns about dust carrying asbestos particles into the community, because blasts at the site weren’t big enough to stir up the small amounts of asbestos found.

A DEEDI spokesperson said there was a management plan in place to avoid mining and crushing the asbestos material.

“The quarry has an obligation to protect the health and safety of all persons at the quarry and anyone who may be affected as a result of quarry operations,” the spokesperson said.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has since issued an Improvement Notice to the quarry that stipulates appropriate processes are put in place to ensure any quarry material leaving the site does not contain asbestos.

Queensland Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health Stewart Bell said prospect of quarry workers contracting asbestos-related illness was negligibly low.

“The amount of material in the rock is very small and, in general, it would require high level exposure over many years to contract disease,” Mr Bell said.

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