SA Water has received approval from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) for the safe short-term storage of 21 redundant asbestos-containing cement pipes at several of its sites across South Australia.

In late 2017, SA Water submitted a licence application to the EPA to store the material at 31 sites, to formalise long-held safe practices.

People living or working near each site were then invited to provide feedback through the EPA’s standard review process.

SA Water’s Senior Manager of Customer Field Services, Colin Bell, said during this time, SA Water directly engaged with these residents and businesses, as well as the 30 relevant local councils, and also provided people the opportunity to tour the facilities.

“One of the main concerns highlighted through our engagement process was that people wanted more general information on how asbestos cement pipes should be safely handled and stored,” Mr Bell said.

“We have since provided reassurance that our staff who work with this material are specifically trained to ensure their safety and that of the wider community, and existing procedures fully comply with relevant codes of practice and safety regulations.

“To further improve these safe practices and provide consistency across all of our sites, we have worked with a licensed contractor to organise new enclosed and lockable storage containers.”

Another one of the concerns raised was the incorrect perception that SA Water is proposing to build asbestos recycling facilities at its sites.

“This likely arose from confusion with the application name – waste or recycling depots (waste for resource recovery or transfer) – and we have since advised residents that we do not, and have no plans to undertake any asbestos processing at these sites,” Mr Bell said.

Around 42 per cent of SA Water’s water network is made of cement pipes that contain bonded, non-friable asbestos, which are sometimes removed from the ground when SA Water completes repairs or upgrades.

“With our 24/7 operations, repair works can take place at any time of the day or night when licensed waste handling facilities aren’t always open, so we need to make sure any removed sections of pipe are safely stored temporarily at one of our sites,” Mr Bell said.

“The pipes are double-wrapped immediately after being removed from the water network and then transported to an SA Water site where they’re placed in a special locked storage container, before being permanently disposed of at an EPA-licensed waste facility.”

Applications were withdrawn for 10 sites after SA Water found opportunities to amalgamate some regions’ storage to another of its remote sites.

SA Water is also investigating the potential to store the material at seven additional sites. Licence applications will be submitted to the EPA prior to any changes being implemented, the public will be invited to submit feedback as per standard process, and SA Water is engaging neighbouring properties.

For more information on the EPA’s licence review process visit the EPA website, and for detail on the improvements SA Water has made at each of its approved short-term storage sites, visit the SA Water website.

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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