The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has begun urgent remediation works for asbestos-contaminated land at Wallaga Lake.
The work commenced on Monday, December 4.
The EPA will remove asbestos disturbed by recent fencing works including scattered pieces of asbestos exposed in the front and back yards of 35 residential properties.
NSW Aboriginal Land Council chairman Danny Chapman raised the asbestos issue with NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty David Harris on November 10.
Mr Harris had a meeting about it with Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe the same day.
Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland also raised the issue with the minister after learning about it on November 20.
Problem has existed for generations
The NSW Ombudsman has written two case studies about the village - in 2010 and 2017 - in reports about government agencies' response to NSW's asbestos problem.
The 2017 report said asbestos had been left on site at the village following a federal government housing program in the 1980s.
Old fibro houses were demolished by community members with much of the asbestos-containing material either left on site or built over.
Resident Kenneth Campbell said the EPA visited the village in October 2023 and identified many problem areas including five focus spots for soil remediation.
EPA acting executive director for programs and innovation Arminda Ryan said the EPA has been working closely with the Roads to Home program, NSW Public Works (NSWPW) and Merrimans Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) to plan remediation of legacy asbestos where the Aboriginal community lives at Wallaga Lake
"With those original planned works about to commence, community members informed us of some additional and urgent areas of concern, including earthworks that had disturbed buried asbestos," Ms Ryan said.
"As a result, we have made changes to our planned remediation program to assist the community with this immediate issue.
"It is of the highest priority that the disturbed asbestos contamination is handled quickly so that the community is safe.
"In conjunction with these emergency works, we're reminding people to avoid the exposed asbestos-contaminated areas until it is removed."
More comprehensive work to follow
A second round of more comprehensive remediation works will begin in early 2024.
This will include the removal of asbestos from nine houses, relocation of an asbestos storage shed and the temporary employment of community members trained in asbestos removal.
A meeting to notify the community and discuss the remediation works was held on Thursday, November 30, with representatives from the EPA, Roads to Home, NSWPW and Merrimans LALC.
A December 2022 EPA report said around 30 Aboriginal communities located on former Aboriginal missions and reserves in NSW have asbestos problems.
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