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Asbestos crisis closes Domremy Catholic College, with other Catholic sites affected

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Domremy College Five Dock was shut down on 21 February after testing for asbestos contamination. Image: Domremy.catholic.edu

Domremy Catholic College in Five Dock closed on 21 February after asbestos-contaminated garden mulch was discovered on its grounds during a search for the toxin strewn across dozens of public spaces in New South Wales.

It joins a number of Catholic sites joining a growing list of nearly 50 places where the cancer-causing material has been found since January, sparking a criminal investigation and remediation efforts across the state.

The contamination crisis began when the banned substance was found in garden mulch at a playground in Rozelle Parklands in Sydney’s inner west in early January.

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In nearly all cases the asbestos has been in bonded, not friable form, which means it has been mixed with cement or other hard bonding materials and likely to be a low health risk if in good condition.

St Luke’s Catholic College in Marsden Park notified parents it would close for a week after mulch there returned a positive asbestos test on 18 February, while St Mary MacKillop Catholic parish in Oran Park and St John of God Richmond Hospital have had areas secured after positive tests.

A statement from Sydney Catholic Schools said Domremy College was notified by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority that its mulch samples returned a positive reading for bonded asbestos.

“It is important to note that this form of material if left intact poses a low risk to health,” said the statement.

“Upon receiving professional advice from an independent occupational hygienist, access to the affected areas have been restricted and air monitoring will be installed until the necessary remediation is carried out.

“To help quickly facilitate the remediation, the college will be closed on Wednesday, with students to return the following day.”

St Michael’s Catholic Primary School in Daceyville also had mulch tested but no contamination was found.

St John of God Richmond Hospital said in a statement that “small amounts” of bonded asbestos were located within recently landscaped gardens recently around its redevelopment site.

“The work site has been fully secured throughout the development and not accessible by patients, visitors or caregivers,” a statement said. “Our priority is the safety of our caregivers and patients, and we are working closely with our construction partners who are taking all necessary steps as directed by the EPA.”

Aged care facilities, supermarkets and transport development sites have also used the contaminated recycled mulch the EPA says was produced by Greenlife Resource Recovery.

The company based in southwest Sydney denies including asbestos, as well as other construction and demolition materials which have also been found, in its mulch product.

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