Sydney seeks truck driver who dumped deadly waste near child-care centers

Authorities in Australia are searching for a truck driver who dumped more than two tons of dangerous asbestos waste on a road near two child-care centers.

Sydney's city council on Tuesday released CCTV footage of the truck to enlist public help in identifying the driver, who faces a fine of up to 1 million Australian dollars ($1 million) and a seven-year prison sentence for illegal dumping of waste.

The CCTV footage shows the white Daihatsu Delta truck on Dec. 14 last year traveling over speed bumps with its tipping tray up and rear tailgate swinging over, dumping the demolition waste on the roadway in Wattle Lane in the inner-west suburb of Ultimo.

More than two metric tons (2.2 U.S. tons) of the waste was dumped near a playground and between two preschool child-care centers, council official Gary Harding said.

Parents who arrived to pick up their children from the childcare centers in the moments after the spill inadvertently drove over the asbestos, the council said in a statement.

The area was sealed off when asbestos was confirmed and toxic waste specialists cleaned up the mess. The area was declared safe two days later.

Asbestos cement becomes dangerous when sheets are cut or broken, releasing tiny asbestos particles that can be fatal if inhaled.

The council believed the dumping was deliberate and that cloth tied over the truck's license plate was an attempt to avoid identification.

"City rangers have spent literally hundreds of hours trying to identify the person responsible for this really despicable act," Harding said.

"It is hard to understand how anyone could do something like this deliberately in any area, let alone opposite some childcare centers," he added.

Australia has the highest incidence of the fatal lung disease mesothelioma because of decades of mining asbestos and building with asbestos cement and other asbestos materials. All asbestos products have been banned in Australia for a decade and demolition of buildings containing asbestos is subject to strict safety controls.