05:57 pm, Monday 9 April, 2012
An investigation conducted by the Sun-Herald confirmed that tonnes of asbestos-contaminated materials are being illegally dumped across NSW, putting people at risk to the deadly fibres.
The investigation revealed that rogue dumpers, commercial contractors and home renovators carelessly dump asbestos-contaminated materials as they avoid costly disposal fees. It was also revealed that a third of all notices issued by the NSW Environmental Protection Authority in the past five years were for illegal or improper asbestos disposal.
A group of professional transporters conducted their own undercover surveillance. They filmed a truck illegally dumping waste at Moroota, north-West of Sydney. The result of their surveillance was handed to the Western Sydney Regional Illegal Dumping Squad. The surveillance was a success with the offenders being caught and fined. Unfortunately, many offenders are never caught.
Asbestos dust is harmful and if breathed in, can cause serious lung diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
“There are people who are not even born yet that will come down with asbestos-related diseases because of this,” said Barry Robson, president of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia.
“It should have stopped by now.”
The Herald further reports that in the past year, asbestos has been found in:
- Garden mulch sold to residents by Bega Valley Shire Council
- A thousand tonnes of contaminated sand that was spread across a sporting oval at Rockdale. The culprit could not be identified so it was cleaned up at the council’s expense;
- Kerbside pick-ups for recycling;
- Garden sheds and under homes;
- Skip bins in Sydney
- A 30,000-tonne pile dumped on a private property at Mangrove Mountain on the Central Cost.
- Stockpiled and buries on Norfolk Island properties because of a lack of funding to take it off the island.
- Backyards, often rising to the surface. This, according to asbestos removalists, is a particular problem on the Central Cost. Wastes from demolished asbestos homes are often buried on site.
According to the Sun-Herald, dumpings of asbestos contaminated materials have increased on the private properties. Thirty five clean-up notices have been issued by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) since January 2011, but no systems are in place to tally dumpings on public areas.
“For the government not to have at hand the extent of illegal dumping is reckless,” said Cate Faehrmann, from the Greens environment.
The EPA has launched 11 prosecutions in the past five years against 7 defendants with $230,900 fines issued and 450 hours of community service ordered. At present, there are 16 charges of illegal dumping of asbestos before the Land and Environment Court.
Waste Contractors & Recyclers Association’s Tony Khoury said that the high price of disposal is the biggest factor behind the illegal dumping of asbestos. Tipping fees range from $200 to $400 a tonne, while removal of an asbestos roof can cost about $45 per square metre. He said that the government should subsidise disposal costs so “price is not a disincentive to public safety.”
The Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, during its 2010/11 annual report, said that seven hundred Australians were diagnosed with mesothelioma and 1500 with lung cancer caused by asbestos. It estimates that the number of those affected by asbestos-related diseases will continue to rise. NSW Ombudman, Bruce Barbour said that about 200,000 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated waste is properly sent to landfill every year. However, the waste industry sources say that at least twice that amount is dumped illegally.
Two government inquiries, one state and one federal, are in progress. The NSW inquiry is evaluating the impact of tipping fees on illegal dumping and is examining ways to encourage proper disposal. The NSW government has also established the Heads of Asbestos Co-ordination Authority.
“We are developing a model policy to show councils what they should be doing. One of the problems has been that the issue is just pushed between agencies,” said Heads of Asbestos Co-ordination Authority chairman Peter Dunphy.
The Dangers of Asbestos
Asbestos is a substance commonly used in fibre cement boards, insulation for pipes, floor tiles, vehicle brakes, clutches and in other building materials. The use of asbestos has caused a global stir when health organisations around the world warned of its serious health implications. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 107 workers worldwide die every year due to asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos is now considered a “hidden killer,” causing serious diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. It can take around 15 to 60 years after the first exposure for fatal diseases to develop.
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