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Asbestos Containing Material

The NSW Government Doubles Fines for Environmental Pollution from Asbestos Containing Materials.

In a significant move to combat environmental pollution, the NSW Government has recently increased the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) powers, enhancing its capability to impose more substantial fines for infractions involving asbestos containing materials. This decision follows a thorough criminal probe into the distribution of mulch contaminated with asbestos containing materials, leading to a landmark $4 million fine for corporate offenders.

This regulatory shift underscores a pivotal moment in environmental legislation, marking the most comprehensive reform in environment protection laws in over three decades. The initiative is a response to the growing demand for stringent regulations against the improper handling of asbestos-containing materials and highlights the requirement for compliance in the corporate sector. 

The catalyst for these legislative enhancements was the alarming discovery of mulch contaminated with asbestos containing materials across multiple sites in Sydney, igniting a criminal investigation by the EPA. Of the 78 sites tested, the majority were found to contain bonded asbestos – a form of asbestos material with less exposure risk than its friable counterpart, yet still a concern for public safety. Notably, only Harmony Park in Surry Hills, Sydney, was identified as having friable asbestos, which poses a greater health risk.

These sweeping changes amplify the EPA’s investigative powers but also initiate a public ‘name and shame’ procedure to deter malpractice and warn the public about entities mishandling asbestos containing materials.

The new legislation will double the maximum fines for offences related to asbestos containing materials. For corporations, potential fines will escalate from $2 million to $4 million, and for individuals, the ceiling will be raised to $1 million. Moreover, penalties for grave “tier 1” environmental polluting offences will see an increase to $10 million for companies and $2 million for individuals, reinforcing the NSW Government’s stance on environmental preservation.

The recent focus on asbestos containing materials emerged from what has been described as the most significant criminal investigation in the EPA’s history, spotlighting the necessity for closing legal loopholes and bolstering investigative powers. 

Beyond financial penalties, the legislative overhaul introduces rapid response and investigation mechanisms. Authorities will have enhanced powers to demand documentation from companies, issue clean-up notices and enforce accountability throughout the supply chain.

This landmark legislative reform aims to eradicate complacency and prevent environmental degradation caused by asbestos-containing materials. It also demonstrates the NSW Government’s resolve to act. With over 1,200 tests conducted and 78 sites already identified as contaminated, the ongoing criminal investigation by the EPA is nearing its conclusion, with prosecutions anticipated in the near future.

Worry about mulch contamination has extended to additional regions. The Department of Environment, Science and Innovation in Queensland disclosed it is carrying out “targeted, precautionary” asbestos tests at mulch supplying businesses, while the Australian Capital Territory has disclosed that the same potentially hazardous asbestos found in New South Wales has been distributed in and around Canberra.

What do the new penalties mean for business?

Introducing steeper penalties for environmental violations, especially those involving asbestos containing materials, changes the regulatory landscape for businesses. Under the new legislation, companies face increased financial risks. This increase in fines serves as a clear message from the NSW Government about the seriousness with which it views environmental protection and public health.

For businesses, these heightened penalties underscore the necessity of compliance and the implementation of rigorous environmental management practices. Companies must now re-evaluate their operations, supply chains, and waste management protocols to ensure they do not inadvertently handle or dispose of asbestos containing materials improperly. The higher fines are designed to deter negligence and encourage businesses to prioritise environmental safeguards, thereby reducing the risk of pollution and potential harm to the public and environment.

Furthermore, the legislative changes include enhanced investigative powers for the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), meaning businesses could be scrutinised more. The EPA’s ability to demand documents, issue clean-up notices, and require companies to inform others in their supply chain about environmental concerns is designed for more effective oversight and faster remediation of any issues that arise.

Businesses must also be mindful of the “name and shame” process introduced by the legislation. This public warning system about poor environmental performers and sub-standard practices could have significant reputational consequences, potentially affecting customer trust and market position. In this context, compliance is a legal obligation and a critical component of corporate responsibility and brand integrity.

In summary, the new penalties and regulatory measures mean businesses must be more vigilant and proactive in their environmental compliance efforts. The increased fines and strengthened EPA powers will require businesses to adopt best practices in handling asbestos containing materials and preventing environmental pollution.

How Can Global Asbestos Audits Help?

Experts in Managing Asbestos Containing Material

Compliance typically necessitates inspections and monitoring to ensure asbestos containing materials do not contaminate the environment. Documented proof through asbestos audits, registers, and management plans is required to demonstrate compliance and mitigate against future legal repercussions and fines.

Global Asbestos Audits are experts in identifying and managing asbestos containing materials in NSW and throughout Australia.

With the need for risk mitigation, it makes sense to call in the experts.

Contact Global Asbestos Audits today for an initial consultation.