This position statement has been prepared in response to the publication of the revised Guidelines for the Assessment, Remediation and Management of Asbestos Contaminated Sites in Western Australia (the WA Asbestos Guidelines) by the West Australian Department of Health on 24 August 2021.
The WA Asbestos Guidelines respond to the legacy of asbestos that has resulted in asbestos contaminated sites and the need to ensure that asbestos contaminated sites are identified early and managed effectively.
The WA Asbestos Guidelines are a valuable resource for the management of asbestos contaminated sites, and the previous (2009) version of the guidelines has been widely referenced in NSW.
The 2021 version of the WA Asbestos Guidelines is not wholly consistent with the position of the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). This Position Statement addresses those inconsistencies.
NSW regulatory framework
In NSW, sites contaminated with asbestos are regulated under the Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 (the CLM Act), the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) or the planning framework, generally depending on the significance of the contamination and how it is proposed to be managed.
Land that is significantly contaminated as a result of poor historical on-site management of asbestos materials is generally regulated by the EPA under the CLM Act and Contaminated Land Management Regulation 2013.
Land that is contaminated as a result of the illegal disposal of asbestos waste is generally regulated under the POEO Act and associated waste legislation.
Remediating sites contaminated with asbestos
Remediation of asbestos contaminated sites often involves the removal of visible asbestos and the removal of any media, usually soil, that contains asbestos fragments.
The asbestos and the contaminated soil are most commonly disposed of to a landfill licenced to accept asbestos waste. If they have not been imported to the site, it may be possible to bury them on site in an approved containment cell.
Guidance for design and construction of containment cells is found in the Contaminated Land Management Guidelines for the NSW Site Auditor Scheme (PDF 998KB) and the Environmental Guidelines - Solid waste landfills (PDF 1.18MB).
The POEO Act and Protection of the Environment Operations (Waste) Regulation 2014 specify the requirements for landfilling asbestos waste.
Can asbestos contaminated soil be used under the resource recovery framework?
No. Since 2003, the use or sale of asbestos has been completely banned in Australia.
The World Health Organization has stated that there is no minimum safe exposure level for any form of asbestos fibres.
Consistent with the national ban on asbestos, section 144AAB of the POEO Act makes it an offence to cause or permit asbestos waste in any form to be re-used or recycled.
Guidelines approved by the EPA under the CLM Act provide that soil with very low levels of asbestos contamination may be suitable to remain in-situ at the site on which the soil is found, if the levels do not exceed those recommended for the land use approved for the site.
Contact the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555 for further details about the management of asbestos contaminated soils found on your site.
Approaches in the WA Asbestos Guidelines
The WA Asbestos Guidelines are generally consistent with the NSW regulatory framework for the management of asbestos contaminated sites, but depart from the NSW approach in several areas, including:
Reuse of asbestos contaminated soils
The WA Asbestos Guidelines permit the reuse of soils contaminated with low levels of bonded asbestos, after mechanical screening to remove the asbestos and subsequent validation.
In NSW, this is not permitted. Removal of asbestos fragments is not a remedial approach to ‘clean’ asbestos contaminated soils or stockpiles for reuse.
Derivation of site-specific clean up goals
The WA Asbestos Guidelines allow for asbestos screening levels to be adjusted to develop site-specific clean up goals based on parameters such as soil character/texture (including moisture content), depth and lateral spread of contamination, asbestos mineralogy and analytical methods.
Given the variability and uncertainty of these parameters, the EPA does not support the development of site-specific clean up goals for asbestos contaminated soils based on these parameters.
The EPA supports assessment using a robust conceptual site model (prepared by a suitably qualified and experienced person) that includes consideration of site-specific exposure scenarios to understand and manage risks to human health.
Can I emu-pick non-friable asbestos containing materials (ACM) fragments identified in shallow soils?
There are various acceptable means to provide confidence that the soil surface on a contaminated site is free of visible asbestos including hand-picking of asbestos fragments (emu picking). The requirement for the soil surface to be free of visible asbestos applies to both assessment and remediation phases.
Emu picking of asbestos is permitted in NSW under the following circumstances
- to remove visible asbestos from the surface of a contaminated site, for determining the asbestos contamination of soil for the purposes of ‘health screening levels’ as per, Section 4.8, National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure 1999 (NEPM) Schedule B1, Volume 2
- to remove non-friable asbestos containing materials in shallow (<10cm) surface soils where the source of the asbestos is previously poor/incomplete demolition of an asbestos structure i.e. to remove fragments remaining at the surface.
Emu picking of asbestos is not permitted in NSW under the following circumstances
- where the asbestos is in friable condition or defined as asbestos fines or fibrous asbestos
- as a remedial approach to ‘clean’ onsite or offsite asbestos contaminated soils or stockpiles for reuse onsite, offsite or for disposal as ‘not contaminated with asbestos’ soil.
Can asbestos contaminated soils be buried in a containment cell?
The WA Asbestos Guidelines state that containment of asbestos impacted soils in situ is often preferable to large scale handling, removal and transport of asbestos contaminated soils.
In NSW, asbestos contaminated soil can be contained/buried elsewhere on the same site, but only if:
- it has not been imported to the site
- the site has appropriate development consent and/or complies with relevant planning legislation
- it does not trigger s142A of the POEO Act in relation to pollution of land
- it does not trigger s144AAB of the POEO Act
- containment is the most appropriate remediation strategy and is supported by a remedial action plan and an ongoing Environmental Management Plan
- it meets any other relevant requirements.
The EPA also strongly recommends that a notation be placed on the relevant section 10.7 planning certificate and/or a notation on the land title.
What is the required sampling frequency for asbestos investigations of contaminated sites in NSW?
The EPA supports the proposed number of minimum sampling points for sites larger than 0.2 hectares specified in Tables 4 and 5 of the WA Asbestos Guidelines.
For material that is stockpiled on a contaminated site suspected of being impacted by asbestos, each sampling location should be tested to determine the presence of asbestos.
Analysis must be completed in the field and laboratory for
- non-friable (also known as bonded) asbestos using the NEPM gravimetric procedure where the sample volume must be a minimum of 10 L per sample; and
- asbestos fines/ fibrous asbestos ('AF/FA') where the sample(s) collected must be a minimum of 500 mL or 1 kg.
The 2009 WA Asbestos Guidelines are extensively referred to throughout the NEPM B1 and B2, which are used to investigate contaminated sites in NSW. Does this mean the 2021 WA Asbestos Guidelines apply in NSW?
No. While the EPA supports many of the matters outlined in the WA Asbestos Guidelines, there are key differences between the WA and NSW legislation and approach to certain asbestos-related matters. Consultants should not assume that a guideline drafted by a different jurisdiction can be relied upon to support any departure from NSW legislative requirements.
The WA Asbestos Guidelines are not ‘approved guidelines’ under section 105 of the CLM Act 1997.
To date, the NEPM has not been updated to include any new matters discussed in the 2021 WA Asbestos Guidelines.
The EPA regularly reviews its legislative framework and liaises with other jurisdictions to ensure we continue to apply the latest scientific findings and respond to industry best practice.
The EPA is currently working with the NSW Asbestos Coordination Committee, SafeWork NSW and other agencies to develop more detailed guidance on this issue.
The EPA may review its current position on the matters detailed above as new data and evidence becomes available.
For further information see
- SafeWork NSW’s Managing asbestos in or on soil
- National environmental protection (Assessment of site contamination) measure 1999 - Schedules B1 and B2, NEPC (2013)