Dumping of Asbestos
Unfortunately in our society, the dumping of asbestos in public places (like the footpath and in parks) is all too common. It is a real problem for local councils as we try to balance our desire to penalise the persons responsible with our need to protect the community and organise for the removal of the material as soon as possible (which compromises the time we have to investigate the offence). Either way, we as a community need to take responsibility for each other, and make sure that asbestos is always disposed of lawfully.
Call your local council straight away. If you can record any details that will assist us in our investigation of the matter, such as a car number plate or address of the offender, that would be great. We will attend to the scene as soon as possible (we make these calls a priority) and arrange for the removal of the material. If we can catch them in the act, even better!
If you’re not in your local area at the time you observe the offence, the best thing to do is to call the NSW Environment Protection Authority Pollution Line on 131 555. They will take all details about the offence from you and refer it to the appropriate local council.
Call your local council straight away. A Council Officer will visit the location as soon as possible (these calls are responded to as a priority) and cordon it off to protect the public. They will also gather any information to assist with identifying the person responsible for dumping the material. Council’s asbestos removal contractor will then attend to the scene as soon as is practical to remove the material. Dumping of asbestos is a serious offence, and even after the material has been removed by Council (to protect the public) the offender if identified, will be fined.
If you’re not in your local area at the time you observe the dumped asbestos, the best thing to do is to call the NSW Environment Protection Authority Pollution Line on 131 555. They will record all relevant details and refer the matter to the appropriate local council.
There are many penalties that can be imposed for people who illegally dispose of asbestos. The penalty imposed depends on the severity of the offence and many other factors that need to be considered carefully.
The main options available are:
- On-the-Spot Fines for transporting asbestos to an unlawful facility – $1500 (individual) & $5000 (company).
- Clean-Up Notices – These can be issued to instruct someone to clean up their waste (if they have been found to dispose of it in a public place). The fee attached to this is $466.
- Court Action – If found guilty of unlawful transport/disposal of asbestos, in very serious cases the penalty can reach $250,000. The fine imposed depends largely on the severity of the offence and the evidence your local council has been able to gather in relation to the matter.
Dumping of any waste in a public place is not a great idea for many reasons, but dumping asbestos in a public place has added health & safety risks for the community, making it an even more serious offence.
Lawful disposal of asbestos at a licensed facility is not a cheap exercise, and it is thought that these disposal costs account for the high amount of asbestos dumping we see in our community. Avoiding tip fees, however, is obviously not a valid excuse when it comes to dumping a hazardous material in a public place, for any innocent party to stumble across. Dumping of waste in a public place makes the area look terrible, can invite further dumping of waste and reduce community morale, so please don’t do it!
Our local disposal facilities are mostly run by private parties, and therefore there is no government regulation to influence the tipping fees charged. This means that operators know they can pretty much charge what they want!
There is one exception, however. The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) requires licensed waste facilities in NSW to pay a monetary contribution for each tonne of waste received for disposal at the facility. The levy is applied to try and encourage the community to reduce the amount of waste being disposed of and promote recycling and resource recovery. In 2014, the levy applied to every tonne of waste material tipped is $107.80. This amount is factored into the costs charged per tonne that individuals, businesses and government organisations need to pay.
Asbestos, however, cannot be reused or recycled and therefore the application of this levy to asbestos disposal costs has been argued against for some time. As such, the NSW Environment Protection Authority will trial a program in 2014 that will see the levy removed for asbestos waste, therefore resulting in a cost saving to the community. Whether this trial will result in a reduction in illegal dumping, we will just have to wait and see.
Asbestos removal can, understandably, result in a bit of anxiety in the community, particularly for residents living directly next to the property where the asbestos removal is occurring. Here are some common questions we are asked in relation to this matter.
If your neighbour needed approval to demolish their home or garage, then there is a requirement for them to advise you prior to commencement of works – this is one of the conditions of them getting approval! If the application was made through Council, then they are required to give five (5) working days notice. If the application was made through a Private Certifier, two (2) working days notice is required to be given. A neighbour is considered to be either side, opposite and at the rear of the property in question.
If your neighbour (or a licensed contractor on their behalf) is removing a small amount of asbestos, then there is no requirement to notify neighbours. However, it is always encouraged!
Please note that the information provided here about neighbour notification relates specifically to Cumberland Council. To find out what conditions are enforced by your local council, it’s best to give them a call.
The best thing to do is to call your local council. A Council Officer will be sent out as a matter of priority to have a look at what your neighbour doing. If they are found to be doing the wrong thing, they will be asked to stop work immediately and the council will take the matter on from there. If your neighbour/the owner of the property is doing the work (not a licensed contractor), it is not a Workcover NSW matter, because technically it is not a worksite. So that’s why your local council is your best bet!
If a whole house and/or garage is being demolished on a neighbouring property then it should be done by a licensed contractor, as the area of removal is most certainly greater than 10 square metres.
Specific things to look out for that may suggest they are doing the wrong thing would include:
- not wetting it periodically throughout the removal (this helps keep the dust down – the dust is where the asbestos fibres would be!)
- breaking it up into small pieces
- using power tools
- throwing the material onto the ground.
If you are concerned that the contractor is not following all relevant Safework NSW guidelines in conducting the demolition, then you should contact your local council. A Council Officer will visit the site as soon as possible, and if they are found to be doing the wrong thing then they will be instructed to stop work. The Council Officer involved would then contact Workcover NSW to report the offence.
As the complaint involves a company with employees, it is classed as a worksite and therefore the jurisdiction to follow up, fine and hopefully reform the offending company lies with Safework NSW. It is good to call your local council first, however, as they are more likely to be able to respond quickly and can then liaise with Safework NSW as required.
The reason your neighbours are required to notify you prior to commencement of demolition is mainly to give you the opportunity to organise leaving the house for the day (the noise alone could drive you out anyway!). During a demolition, it is most common for the asbestos to be removed first, so the first day of demolition is the best day to avoid the area if you can. We commonly advise residents, whether home or not, to close all windows & doors and remove all items from the clothesline. These are fairly minor precautions to take, but they can help provide peace of mind. Hopefully, if the demolisher conducting the work is doing everything by the book, then the risk to you and other neighbouring properties is negligible.
If your concern relates to asbestos removal on a neighbouring property, it’s always best to give your local council a call first. If it turns out that Safework NSW should be involved, then your local council will make sure they are informed.
When building materials containing asbestos are burnt, they tend to explode which results in asbestos fibres escaping and entering the atmosphere. For this reason, we would always suggest you stay away from these premises until such time as the site can be secured – this usually involves professionals coming in to spray any possible asbestos fibres with a glue-like substance so that they are contained/suppressed and can no longer be inhaled. Minor steps you can take to minimise risk would be to keep your windows closed and bring any clothes in off the line. Call your local council if you are concerned about a burnt-out structure near you.
Other than staying away from the structure, the best thing you can do is call your local council. For the clean-up process to commence, your local council needs to serve the owner of the premises with an emergency order to clean up the site (especially if there is asbestos involved). It cannot always be assumed that the fire brigade that extinguished the fire initially has also reported the incident to the local council, and therefore it really helps for them to be notified by any passersby. The sooner your local council knows about it, the sooner they can start making sure the site gets cleaned up!
As soon as your local council is notified of the burnt-out structure, they will commence the clean-up process. The first step is to identify the owner of the property and serve them with an emergency clean-up notice. It is then up to the owner of the property to comply with the order, which allows 1–2 days to make sure the site is secured (that is, any asbestos has been contained and can no longer be released into the atmosphere). Once the asbestos is secure, the owner then has a period of time to remediate or demolish the structure entirely.