22 February 2024

List of businesses that sold potentially asbestos-contaminated mulch narrowed to 10

| Claire Fenwicke
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cottage mulch

Testing of cottage mulch products continues to see if they’re contaminated with bonded asbestos. Photo: Stonehenge Beltana Facebook.

Two Canberra businesses have been cleared of selling mulch potentially contaminated with bonded asbestos.

WorkSafe ACT put out an alert on Tuesday (20 February) that 12 retailers and suppliers had sold potentially contaminated product over the past year, but an update on Wednesday (21 February) confirmed Casey Projects and Terra Mater Group (formerly Eifer Earth) were in the clear.

“WorkSafe ACT has confirmed [these two businesses] have not distributed or supplied any potentially contaminated mulch to members of the public,” it stated.

“All businesses who purchased the potentially contaminated mulch have been cooperative and have been actively assisting WorkSafe ACT to address this risk to public safety and health.

“WorkSafe ACT understands these local businesses simply happened to purchase potentially contaminated mulch [in the period from] 1 March 2023 to 19 February 2024.”

Work Health and Safety Commissioner Jacqueline Agius said business owners had been extremely cooperative and a number had begun putting remediation plans in place, just in case they became necessary.

Her division had also received several calls from community members.

“Thank you to everyone who has already contacted WorkSafe ACT seeking information about mulch they have purchased in the last 12 months,” Ms Agius said.

“Our inspectors will be in touch with you to confirm next steps.”

Testing is continuing across the ACT to understand the extent of the contamination.

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It comes as some criticism has been aired about whether ACT Government departments had enough funding to be proactive enough in this space.

Speaking in her capacity as ACT Greens environment spokesperson, Rebecca Vassarotti said the bonded asbestos issue in NSW had been known for a number of weeks, and its detection in the Territory highlighted that the ACT Environment Protection Authority (EPA) needed more funds.

“Certainly, under the current circumstances, and with the information that’s come to hand, the ACT Greens believe that we need further action to ensure we do better resource, better fund, and we do better connect the ACT Environment Protection Authority so it can respond to issues such as this,” she said.

“We do need agencies that are well-resourced and connected with their inter-jurisdictional counterparts.”

Ms Vassarotti pointed to regulation and frameworks as other areas that needed to be further examined to ensure material coming into the ACT was meeting the “highest standards”.

“For me, one of the key issues about this is that we knew this was an issue in NSW, and we needed to be able to respond proactively to ensure this wasn’t happening in the ACT,” she said.

“It really is around the regulatory framework that we have to ensure the products that are being sold in the ACT are being properly assessed.”

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City Services Minister Tara Cheyne took issue with Ms Vassarotti’s criticisms, stating the pair had been working together for the past two years on updating policy in this space and increasing the ACT EPA’s resources.

She said she felt the EPA had done “everything correct” in this circumstance.

“It was right for us to wait to see what information we would get from NSW, and once we had that information – on Saturday, on the weekend, during a busy multicultural festival weekend – EPA set up a task force immediately, investigated immediately, engaged with WorkSafe,” Ms Cheyne said.

“I don’t think it’s on the EPA to have been more proactive in this situation or to have predicted necessarily that we would have seen this in the mulch in the ACT, even with our proximity to NSW.

“I think as soon as the EPA was alerted [about the potential asbestos] they worked incredibly quickly, on a weekend, drawing resources together, establishing a cross-government taskforce, and they have worked very hard.”

Ms Cheyne said enquiries were continuing to see if the impacted businesses had had any engagement by government.

“There is very little risk to the community from bonded asbestos, but if it has started to break up, that is a different question for us,” she said.

There are no concerns at this point that contaminated mulch could be at ACT schools or parks given government workers usually make their own mulch from removed trees.

If you have concerns you’ve received contaminated mulch, do not disturb or try to remove it. Contact WorkSafe ACT on WorkSafe_Asbestos@worksafe.act.gov.au for advice on what to do next.

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How’s that self-regulation working out for you, Australia?

It is unfortunate that asbestos is being found in mulch, who would ever thought this could happen?
How could authorities at the time of asbestos mining ever think that it was safe?
It was even used in brake pads which put asbestos dust into the air everywhere. Mechanics blow out brake drums and callipers with compressed air. Will mechanics of that era become affected?
How can authorities even allow vapes and tobacco to be sold?
If it’s not oxygen going into your lungs, then it’s not safe.
With the asbestos in mulch, could there now be kids putting some pieces of fibro in playground mulch to have their school closed for remediation? I can just imagine that same child going to a teacher with a pice of fibro and saying “Look Sir, I found this in the mulch, isn’t this asbestos?”
It could also happen from an ex disgruntled student to create pandemonium.
I would like to know how asbestos ends up in the mulch in the first place. Mulch is made from trees, not asbestos. We need some truthful answers.
Unfortunately there is another problem with asbestos disposal. Because it is expensive to dispose of, people put it in garbage bins whether it be their own, neighbours, shopping centres or public bins. I have even been told that some people take it out on their boat and throw it overboard. While all this may be illegal, who has ever been caught and prosecuted?
There is a simple solution, asbestos disposal is made free, then people will dispose of it properly and it won’t end up in the wrong places.
Maybe James Hardie should have free drop off centres.
The solution is a ‘no brainer’

GrumpyGrandpa4:56 pm 22 Feb 24

I recently purchased mulch, but thankfully, not from any of the suppliers that may have supplied asbestos contaminated material.

Clearly, this material will need to be professionally removed and I can’t help but wonder who meets this cost? Contractors, garden supply companies and home-owners who purchased this material, did so in good faith. I’m guessing the EPA will take over and costs/fined levied against the original Sydney based supplier/manufacturer; assuming they don’t close up shop and liquid their assets.

List of ACT businesses that may have supplied contaminated mulch – it would nice if the author listed those businesses in the Riot Act article!

Capital Retro9:49 am 23 Feb 24

The main local supplier calls their mulch “Forrest Litter”.

Things are about to change with local green recycling with national recycler Soilco taking over the Canberra operations of Corkhill Bros.

It will still be made in Canberra from the green waste people drop off. Corkhills actually export compost and Forest litter to Landscape yards around NSW so unlikely to be any different when new business takes over. CSG also make their own locally. No risk using the major local firms.

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