New Asbestos Taskforce to support investigation into mulch

The NSW Government has today announced an Asbestos Taskforce to give more resources and support to the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s investigation into asbestos in mulch.

The taskforce will be led by the current Chair of the NSW Asbestos Coordination Committee, Carolyn Walsh, and will include senior representatives of several NSW Government agencies, as well as local government.

The Premier and Minister for the Environment have activated an additional surge workforce to assist the state’s environmental regulator, the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), as the scale of the investigation continues to grow.

Additional staff from the Natural Resources Access Regulator and NSW Fire and Rescue will be deployed to the EPA to increase capacity. This is in addition to the EPA’s already expanded workforce on the investigation.

The government’s number one priority is “contact tracing” down the complex supply chain, and then facilitating testing, reporting and management of any positive results. SafeWork NSW, NSW Health and Public Works Advisory will continue to provide support.

The taskforce will help co-ordinate government agencies and assist in prioritising sites considered of highest risk to the public, to ensure all resources are available to secure and remediate sites.

It will also support the EPA in ensuring environmental risks to public land are appropriately managed, as the EPA prioritises its criminal investigation into any breaches of the law.

The taskforce will meet for the first time tomorrow.

The NSW Government is considering regulatory changes to strengthen both penalties and deterrence.

Quote attributable to the Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe:

“The NSW Government is committed to ensuring the community is safe from any potential harmful impacts of contact with asbestos.

“This is the largest investigation the Environment Protection Authority has undertaken in recent decades. The complex, criminal investigation involves multiple lines of enquiry.

“Our number one priority is to finish contract tracing the supply chain – so that any potential receiver of the mulch is notified. That means we can take immediate action to make the area safe.

“The surge workforce means we can get to the bottom of the supply chain much faster.

“I am also taking advice on options to strengthen penalties for those who do the wrong thing.”