Barangaroo Blaze Causes Hazardous Materials Fears to Reignite

The outbreak of a raging fire in the basement of a section of the Barangaroo construction site has reignited concerns about the presence of high levels of hazardous materials at the site. While the blaze has been brought under control overnight, discussions have re-emerged over site contamination.

From the mid 1820s, the previously named East Darling Harbour was used as shipping and stevedoring facilities. Due to the unsuitability of the site to continue as a large scale shipping area, the State Government announced in 2003 that the wharves would be transformed into a new urban precinct. The 22 hectare area is currently being redeveloped for further commercial, residential and recreational use.

hazardous materials and site contamination

Image Source: http://storify.com/abcnews/barangaroo-fire-in-sydney-cbd

Due to the site’s strong industrial history and exposure to heavy pollutants, it is no surprise that a study by AECOM of the site in 2011 discovered high levels of dangerous pollutants on site. For example, groundwater analysis found high levels of heavy metals and other contaminants including, benzene, naphthalene and phenol. Similarly, work on site has been halted several times in the past year due to the discovery of asbestos contaminated soil. However, the excavated soil from Barangaroo has been classified for resource recovery exemption, provided it is contaminant free, with up to 500,000 tonnes earmarked to be sent to the Port Kembla Port Corporation for use in its outer harbour expansion project.

Given the previously known presence of asbestos within the area, the threat of fire is of particular concern as asbestos fibres can be released. However, an EPA spokeswoman made a statement declaring, “We don’t have any concerns [about asbestos]” as this section of the site had previously been excavated and the fill removed. Unease about the impact of the fire on other contaminants in the area was also downplayed by the EPA, as “the fire is not impacting on any areas of known contamination”. Regardless of this, firefighters took extra precautions to ensure the health and safety of both themselves and the general public.

Thankfully, while no one was injured during the blaze, there was a very real risk that this may have occurred, particularly if the blaze had occurred in a presently contaminated area. Given the potential for hazardous materials to compound an already dangerous situation such as a fire, it is good principle to organise rapid remediation to remove risk. Our consultants here at A.D. Envirotech have experience both in the identification of potential hazardous materials (including asbestos), as well as in organising appropriate remedial works. While the fire at Barangaroo remains an extreme case, it serves as a timely warning for everyone of the potential dangers that can occur when fire and hazardous materials are mixed.

NSW

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