Central Coast beaches are under threat. Beneath our turquoise waters a menace is lurking and moving closer into shore. While you scan the horizon line for signs of our gilled grey- suited friends, your children dive and run giggling from white water, unaware of the monster hidden there. It is under the sand they dig, it is nestled among the rocks they explore, it is in the very air they breathe. While we are worried about sharks, and blue bottles, and stingrays, should we be worried about asbestos too?
Why is asbestos a threat?
When asbestos materials are disrupted or damaged, tiny fibres are released into the air. When you breathe these fibres into your lungs, you are at serious risk of developing life threatening lung diseases such as Mesothelioma (lung cancer) or Asbestosis. While the threat can be abated when the fibres are wet, say in the ocean, a sunbaking piece of asbestos can quickly become friable and airborne, endangering you and your loved ones nearby.
Why is asbestos in the water?
Asbestos was a popular building material in the Australian construction industry right up until the 1980’s when it was finally phased out, so plenty of houses on the Central Coast are filled with asbestos products. How asbestos gets into the waterways is unfortunately a combination of bad weather and poor disposal systems and management. Thousands of home renovators, and sadly some ill trained demolition teams (please use professional and accredited asbestos removalists!), have tried their hand at the DIY asbestos removal approach and the results can often have environmental impacts if not disposed of correctly and safely. Intermittent storm systems can easily wash rubbish into the sea if it is not properly contained and the same is true of asbestos.
How bad is the Asbestos problem on the Central Coast?
Over the last few years, Central Coast Council have had to implement daily inspections of Wamberal and Terrigal beaches after multiple discoveries of potential asbestos containing material washed up on the sand. And the situation appears to be getting worse. In 2020, trained council staff collected more asbestos fragments than in all of 2019. The council’s Manager of Environmental Management, Luke Sulkowski, told Coast Community News that over 900 fragments of damaged bonded asbestos had been gathered from Wamberal beach alone that year.
That is one beach, in one year. From the ‘fibro’ fishing shacks of Patonga to the contaminated Ausgrid depot of Noraville, the Central Coast is home to 40 beaches all now under threat of asbestos contamination, and that is to say nothing of waterways such as Brisbane Water, Avoca Lake, Cockrone Lagoon at MacMasters Beach and all their tributaries. Unfortunately, collecting and sample testing along with safe removal and disposal of asbestos from all Central Coast beaches will take years to achieve.
As recently as September, 2021, local residents have complained of more asbestos material being found washed up on the Avoca side of the Skillion, a popular cove for rock pool gazing and driftwood collecting.
Speaking to Coast Community News, another council spokesperson said that trained crews, in partnership with local professional asbestos removalists are now undertaking regular weekly inspections of Terrigal Lagoon Foreshore and Terrigal Haven, as well as Wamberal, The Entrance North and North Shelly Beach.
What to do if you find asbestos?
So next time you are scanning the ocean for man-eating sharks, why not keep the other eye on the shore for the slower, silent killer. If you discover asbestos at the beach or any other shared public spaces, please report it to Council on 1300 463 954 or on their website. If you are concerned about old building materials at your house or place of work, please make use of About The House’s quick, simple and cost effective sample drop off for accurate asbestos testing.