Collective action needed to keep asbestos out of the supply chain

Monday, 25 March, 2024

Collective action needed to keep asbestos out of the supply chain

New South Wales is currently experiencing a building boom, as the pressure mounts to produce more homes for a growing population. At the same time, asbestos is being detected every day in mulch in areas such as parks, hospitals and schools, as well as some residential sites in Sydney, the ACT and Queensland.

John Batty, Managing Director of EDP Consultants and a member of the Asbestos Education Committee of the Australian National Asbestos Awareness Campaign, has called for community vigilance to stop asbestos at the source. This action will prevent it getting into the supply chain and ending up as mulch at public sites, potentially harming lives. Batty is also a founding member and former president of the Asbestos and Hazardous Materials Consultants’ Association.

Batty said the community and businesses must be vigilant about how asbestos is being allowed to enter the supply chain through uncontrolled demolition and disposal practices, thereby ending up in mulch and potentially other recycled products. Batty added that collective action can stop it at the source.

“When construction companies, builders and mum-and-dad renovators demolish old structures, if an asbestos survey isn’t undertaken, there is a risk that the demolition may impact directly on unidentified asbestos-containing materials. This may inadvertently contaminate the building rubble with asbestos being mixed in with bricks, tiles and timber. This can then lead to asbestos entering the recycling supply chain where items such as timber are being mulched up to be used as part of garden mulch. As asbestos fragments may be small, there is a risk that they bypass the quality control system and end up in garden mulch. Even a small amount of asbestos presents a risk as the hazard is being reintroduced into the community,” Batty said.

Batty also urged homeowners to be aware that one in three Australian homes contain some form of asbestos, especially those constructed before 1990. It is vital to identify the type and location of any asbestos-containing material within a property before any refurbishment or demolition work is undertaken. Batty also cautioned homeowners to be asbestos aware, particularly when undertaking any maintenance on or cleaning asbestos-containing materials.

Batty said there is a way forward through this crisis if businesses and the wider community follow current regulations to identify, remove and certify the removal of asbestos. This will ensure that asbestos is kept out of the mulch supply chain and in licensed landfill where it belongs. Builders, homeowners, renovators and tradesmen should engage a licensed asbestos assessor or competent person to undertake an intrusive and destructive asbestos assessment prior to any works to ensure asbestos is appropriately identified. It should be safely removed by a licensed asbestos removal contractor and be given a final clearance certification to note the area is safe to reoccupy and the remaining structure is safe to demolish.

“Don’t wait until the demolition has started. Asbestos is not a ‘do-it-yourself’ job. Similar to engaging an electrician or plumber, ensure you engage an asbestos professional at the start. That way, we’re limiting the community’s exposure and creating a safer environment for everyone,” Batty said.

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