Blue Mountains council rejects disclosing historical asbestos records, following mesothelioma death of former worker

A push by Greens Councillor Kerry Brown for council to publicly disclose its medium to high risk asbestos locations prior to May 2017 has been rejected at the February 25 council meeting.

Last week Cr Brown warned the council to "come clean on the formerly dangerous sites", following the news of the death of former council worker Morris Pugh, 64, from mesothelioma in January. She wanted the information displayed on council's asbestos management page.

"While the practices are historic, the impacts are not," she told the council meeting.

Blue Mountains City Council will seek to contact all Mr Pugh's fellow workers from the last 10 years to let them know of his passing, advise on free medical screening and offer counselling.

Morris Pugh worked for council for 35 years and was on the parks and gardens team until he retired in 2015. It was his dying wish his colleagues not suffer the same fate.

At the meeting Cr Brown supported the motion to write to "fellow workers" of Mr Pugh, but said it did not "go far enough".

She said Mr Pugh's tragic death was "a reminder that asbestos plays a long and terrible game."

"We know from commissioned reports and asbestos testing and more than 20 Safework notices in 2017 that there are specific council sites where there was unmanaged, unstable or friable asbestos, often for years," she told the Gazette.

But council's chief executive officer, Dr Rosemary Dillon, said it was "false and harmful to suggest that the council has known where unstable or friable asbestos is, and has not addressed it, or that council is concealing any such information. There is an asbestos register at every building that contains asbestos".

Dr Dillon said as the council has worked to deal with the historical problem of asbestos in its properties, it has commissioned various reports to identify where asbestos is located and what risk it poses.

Cr Brown said having information on the council website would indicate "not just that the sites are clean now, but the time when they weren't and the dates on which they were remediated," she said.

Cr Brown asked that the council-requested 2014-2016 Airsafe audit of council properties for the asbestos register and the 25 high risk sites identified in the 2017 Centium report be put on the website, as well as information of risks arising from Safework and EPA notices of 2017 and dates of their remediation.

Dr Dillon told the council meeting 17 of the 25 Centium sites had been dealt with when the report was released and the vast majority of asbestos incidences were minor, in areas such as electrical backing boards.

"The specialist asbestos company Airsafe conducted a number of audits ... identifying needed repairs. However, not one of the Airsafe reports recommended the closure of any council building."

Cr Brown commended the work of council over the last two years cleaning up asbestos and its health and safety systems, but said "it can't undo what has gone before." She said early testing would ensure people have a proper record, if they do develop the disease and could help with compensation claims.

Dr Dillon said asbestos-related diseases were a scourge.

"The illness can be diagnosed decades after first exposure. It is often very difficult to identify the circumstances in which exposure occurred, not least because of the very widespread use of the substance, in both domestic and commercial premises, for decades."

Mr Pugh's partner Nancy Marlor issued a statement thanking Dr Dillon, the mayor and the other councillors "for their support in helping me to fulfill Morris' wish".