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Residents urged to take caution when returning to homes

A building levelled at Batlow.

Residents returning to homes in the wake of bushfires that have gripped the area are being urged to exercise caution with the potential for asbestos along with chemicals and rubble being left around burn sites posing a risk to health.

Environment Protection Authorities Executive Director of Hazardous Incidents and Environmental Health Stephen Beaman said that houses, sheds and other buildings that have been burnt in a bushfire can leave potential health and safety hazards in the remaining rubble and ash.

 “Do not enter your property until you are advised that it is safe to do so by emergency services, utility companies or your local council,” Mr Beaman said.

“If your home or buildings have been damaged in the fires, an assessment is undertaken by NSW government agencies for the protection of you, your family and neighbours. The assessment must be completed before you can safely return to your property.”

He said that hazardous household materials that may be present after a bushfire include asbestos, chemicals (including household, cleaning, garden and farm chemicals), ash and dust (including ash from burnt treated timbers) solar panels and damaged gas bottles.

Other hazards may include unsafe building structures, unsafe trees, electrical hazards and damaged or missing pool fencing.

“Assessments of fire impacted properties identifies hazards that you need to be aware of such as asbestos-contaminated materials, so you can take appropriate action to protect yourself and your family,” he said.

“If asbestos is suspected or identified, the site may be sprayed with a non-toxic, coloured PVA glue, to give a temporary seal to reduce the risk of airborne asbestos fibres. Samples may be collected to confirm the presence of asbestos. The results will be provided to you or your council to inform appropriate cleanup and disposal.

“Access to asbestos affected areas should be avoided. Asbestos clean-up and removal must be undertaken by a licensed asbestos removalist,” Mr Beaman said.

Those returning to properties and homes to make an assessment of the damage are being told to consider the following precautions for their health and well-being:

  • Do not enter your property until you are advised that it is safe
  • Electrical hazards could be present, including live power lines or active solar panels
  • Buildings and other structures may be unstable to enter or walk over
  • Sewerage services may be disrupted, causing health risks
  • Hot, smouldering coals and other potentially hazardous materials may be hidden under rubble
  • Building rubbish should not be buried as it may contain hazardous materials
  • Don’t spread ash around your property, particularly if asbestos materials were used in your home or other structures, or copper-chrome-arsenate-treated timber was burnt.
  • Moisten the ash with water to minimise dust and keep damp but do not use high-pressure water sprays
  • Wear a P2 face mask and protective clothing