Volunteer Country Fire Authority crews may have been exposed to asbestos during a controlled burn carried out at the request of the Central Goldfields Shire Council.
And the shire’s mayor Geoff Lovett said council staff led members of the Carisbrook CFA to believe the recently-burnt waste pile did not contain asbestos.
Cr Lovett also said a risk assessment was not conducted on the mound at the former Penney and Lang abattoirs site, in Madmans Lane, Flagstaff.
An asbestos-accredited company, dressed in “moon suits”, cleaned up what remained of the pile the day after the burn, erecting asbestos warning signs, Cr Lovett said.
Council staff called in the company but did not inform the shire’s councillors, he said.
“There was no risk assessment done and I find that absolutely appalling,” he said.
“I’m very, very concerned about the processes we didn’t follow.”
Central Goldfields Shire Council interim chief executive officer Vince Haining said: “The processes associated with the clearance of the site were inadequate and we acknowledge that.”
“If the issue has caused distress to any individuals we apologise unreservedly and have renewed our processes to ensure it won’t happen in the future.”
Mr Haining said the EPA had asked the shire for further information and it would provide that.
The community was “up in arms” about the burn, as was the Captain of the Carisbrook CFA, said Cr Lovett, arguing the Captain felt the shire had put his members at risk.
Tests are currently being conducted on the site and the clothes of CFA members involved in the burn to establish whether asbestos was present in the material.
The Bendigo Advertiser contacted the CFA who confirmed members were present at the burn.
A CFA spokesperson said: “Our priority is always the safety of our members and the community. We’ve applied all appropriate policies and procedures in accordance with CFA guidelines.”
The block of land has been dormant since Penney and Lang shut down in 2005, and Cr Lovett believed the site would “certainly” have contained asbestos years ago.
“I don’t think anyone definitively knows whether there was asbestos there or not,” he said, adding the council process had been “found wanting”.
The shire received a clean up order from the Environment Protection Authority for the site in May and the burn was completed in late June.
Concerned local environmentalist Wayne McKail suggested the rubbish pile had spread over recent months.
“There’s enough people who are standing up and demanding answers,” said Mr McKail, suggesting the site has been riddled with issues since 2010.