We tested the landscaping soil on sale in Sydney stores for asbestos and it came back positive

Asbestos has been found in recycled soil fill for sale in New South Wales landscape and garden stores, more than a decade after investigators first raised concerns about the contamination.

Guardian Australia purchased four products at Sydney landscape supply stores and analyzed samples from accredited private laboratories.

Two did not comply with state regulations for pH levels and one was found to contain asbestos fibers.

One of the products that passed the lab tests contained large physical contaminants, including glass and a metal screw.

The results prompted the state’s environmental regulator to express concern about the poor product and levels of non-compliance we are seeing in the industry. In January, Guardian Australia revealed that widespread breaches from waste recycling facilities meant potentially contaminated product could have been applied in the past decade to land across the state, including childcare centres, residential areas, schools and the parks.

Jason Scarborough, a former senior waste compliance officer at the NSW Environment Protection Authority, who took samples sent for testing, said the asbestos-containing product posed a potential health risk, another would be unsuitable for any type of horticultural use, and you will also not use product that has obvious physical contamination.

Three of the four products, I wouldn’t use, Scarborough said. Photo: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

The products purchased from each store were marketed as crushing dust, recycled turf layer, recycled soil and budget rootstock, all names that can be used to sell recycled waste from construction and demolition sites, known as reclaimed fines. . The visual appearance and descriptions of the products were also consistent with the fines recovered.

The products are used in public places such as parks and schools, and are also sold directly to consumers for backyard landscaping purposes, such as a base for turf, fill for a retaining wall, or as a base for pavers. About 700,000 tonnes of product is applied to land in NSW each year.

A metal screw found in the recycled soil fill has been sent for independent testing. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian
A large piece of glass found in one of the soil fill samples. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian

Testing of samples

Guardian Australia purchased products from four Sydney landscape stores. Scarborough took samples of each product in accordance with accepted scientific standards and sent them to two private laboratories accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities.

Two EPA investigations previously revealed by Guardian Australia, one in 2013 and one in 2019, found that facilities producing recovered fines were flouting regulations aimed at limiting the spread of pollutants, including lead and asbestos.

Scarborough was the EPA official who led the 2013 investigation. He spoke publicly in February about his concern that the regulator had not acted on known problems in the waste sector.

The laboratories each tested a portion of the samples purchased by Guardian Australia against the legal limits for contaminants set out in the recovered fines regulations. They include physical pollutants such as plastics, hard metal and glass, chemical pollutants such as lead, zinc and nickel and other toxins such as pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls. Laboratories also test products for asbestos, but this is not a specific requirement under the recovered fines regulations.

Soil fill made from recovered fines is heterogeneous. Even if it is well processed, the composition can be variable, meaning that one part of a sample will not necessarily have the same concentration of contaminants as another part.

Scarborough prepares to take a sample of the soil fill. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian

The crusher dust was found by a laboratory to contain a tuft of asbestos fibres, meaning it is considered asbestos waste under NSW laws and must be disposed of.

That product and the recycled soil were found by both laboratories to have breached the legal limit for pH levels set by the Environmental Protection Authority.

The recycled turf substrate contained visible physical contaminants including electrical wire, large pieces of glass and a metal screw. But both commercial labs found it complied with legal limits for the full range of pollutants.

The budget substrate samples were given a pass by the labs against every aspect of the regulations and also had no major visible contaminants.

Based on those four products, one of which potentially poses a health risk because it contains asbestos fibers, Scarborough said. Another would be unsuitable for any kind of horticultural use.

Fifty percent disagree with some aspect of it [recovered fines] order and another had serious physical contamination evident that was not reflected in the laboratory results.

So the math there is 75% three out of four products I wouldn’t use.

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Poor documentation increases the risk to consumers

The results showed no traces of pesticides or polychlorinated biphenyls, which are potentially carcinogenic chemicals. All samples tested were within limits for heavy metals such as lead.

But Scarborough said he would exercise caution in interpreting these findings because of the variable nature of the material.

The part the lab got to analyze may not be representative of the whole, which is really the fundamental problem with the subject, he said.

But he said that aspect of the tests appeared to show an improvement on samples tested by the EPA in the 2013 investigation, which he said found regular violations of thresholds for lead, zinc and copper in particular.

The 2013 report recommended that soil products made from recovered fines should only be used for things like pipe laying and deep earthworks where the risk of human contact was low. He recommended that the products not be sold by third parties such as landscapers because poor documentation made it difficult to follow the chain of custody of the material and landscape suppliers were not necessarily equipped to explain the nature of the product to their customers.

Guardian Australia’s tests were limited to stores selling the products in small quantities, most recovered fines products are sold in bulk.

The original source of the material and the recycling facility that processed it was not contained in the product information for any of the backfill purchased by Guardian Australia.

One of the bags filled with and from which the samples were taken. Photo: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian

Under the recovered fines regulations, waste facilities that process the material must provide the buyer with a statement that they have met all legal requirements for the product, as well as a copy of the regulations or a link where the buyer can find them. that information.

But these rules only apply to processors. This information often does not reach the consumer who buys the product from a third party, such as a landscaper. None of the Guardian Australia landscape stores purchased products from that information, nor were they asked to do so.

That’s where it breaks down, Scarborough said. This information may have been provided in landscape stores, but was not provided to you when you purchased the items.

In reality, the person using the material is the most important in this supply chain, because they are the ones who will be exposed to the product.

An EPA spokesman said the regulator was concerned by reports of suspected contamination of recycled products and to investigate the matter further we will seek more information.

They said a compliance campaign that followed the 2019 investigation had found asbestos in stocks at several facilities, resulting in the issuing of precautionary notices to stop the distribution of the material.

We will soon take regulatory action as a result of this compliance campaign, they said.

In 2022 the EPA abandoned a proposal to tighten regulations on manufacturers of recovered fines products after pressure from the waste industry.

An EPA spokesman said the regulator was now reviewing changes to those rules and consulting with industry.

They said any reforms would be informed by a review being developed by NSW’s chief scientist into the management of asbestos in products made from recycled construction and demolition waste.

As part of this review, the chief scientist’s office is examining the approaches to asbestos management taken in other Australian jurisdictions and whether an acceptable threshold level for asbestos in waste intended for beneficial reuse can be established.

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Image Source : www.theguardian.com

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