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Asbestos mulch crisis extends to Victoria

Asbestos mulch crisis extends to Victoria

THE asbestos mulch crisis that originated in Sydney’s Rozelle Parklands in January has now extended into Victoria, prompting significant action from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) in one of its largest investigations to date.

Initially identified when a child discovered a piece of bonded asbestos in a playground, the issue has since impacted numerous locations, including parks, schools, transport projects, supermarkets, and hospitals across both states.

The EPA has established an Agency Command Team—comprising environment protection officers, environmental and public health scientists, and specialist investigators—to lead its response to the asbestos contamination in mulch delivered to parks and reserves.

Most of the contaminated mulch discovered to date contains bonded asbestos, which is mixed with substances like concrete. Depending on its condition, bonded asbestos is less likely to release deadly fibres into the air than its friable counterpart, which can easily become airborne.

In Victoria, the EPA has reached out to all councils, urging them to review landscaping work and mulch supply contracts.

Surf Coast Shire general manager of community life, Gail Gatt, detailed their response measures, stating, “Council officers who have undertaken asbestos awareness training will conduct a visual assessment of the playgrounds we maintain.

“If any suspect material is identified a hygienist will be engaged to undertake a further inspection of the site.”

Gatt added that the inspections would cover all 41 playgrounds managed by the council in the coming weeks.

City of Greater Geelong executive director James Stirton said the safety of the community was the number one priority.

“We are vigilant with all the garden bed mulch we use in our parks and reserves, with the vast majority of mulch produced from chipping trees and branches removed by the City,” Mr Stirton said.

He said that all mulch from their approved suppliers is rigorously inspected and tested, adhering strictly to safety standards.

“In light of the issues faced by some councils, our crews have been instructed to look out for any suspected asbestos contamination when working in reserves.”

A Borough of Queenscliffe spokesperson said their garden bed mulch is derived from locally trimmed vegetation, with any potentially weedy or exotic trimmings sent to landfill to avoid risks.

“Soft fall mulch used within the playground areas is sourced from certified suppliers and council recently requested information from EPA if these suppliers have been investigated and are waiting for information before additional mulch is purchased,” the spokesperson stated.

In addition to reaching out to councils, the EPA has also contacted demolition companies to reinforce the legal requirements for asbestos management, ensuring all stakeholders adhere to strict environmental and safety standards.


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