Asbestos Soil Contamination And Construction Work: Advice For Business Owners

Construction work is often necessary to improve your business. Projects can range in size, but even relatively minor works will often displace soil and waste. As a business owner, it's important to make sure that you don't spread contaminated soil during a construction project, particularly with harmful materials like asbestos. Learn more about the risk of asbestos contamination in soil, and find out about the steps you may need to take to avoid severe legal penalties.

The risk of asbestos contamination

Asbestos is a natural material that the Australian construction industry once used extensively in building projects. Indeed, experts estimate that until the 1960s, a quarter of all homes in Australia used asbestos cladding and roofs.

The Australian government finally banned the use of asbestos in domestic building materials in 2003, but hundreds of thousands of homes and other properties still contain a lot of asbestos. Indeed, homes constructed before 1980 will almost certainly have asbestos in them somewhere.

When intact, asbestos is largely harmless, but if you break up the material, you can release tiny particles and fibres. These airborne fibres get into the human body, where they can cause several lethal diseases. During any modern construction project, builders must take special precautions to make sure they dispose of asbestos safely, particularly in soil.

Finding out if you are working with contaminated soil

You can never assume that the soil on your site is not contaminated. Indeed, if previous builders demolished or altered any buildings on the site, it's possible that you need to deal with asbestos contaminated soil.

Before removing soil from a site, you should arrange for somebody to check for signs of contamination. This person must have relevant experience, and he or she must have the necessary skills to spot any potential asbestos-containing material (ACM) in the soil. According to what you know about how previous owners used the site, the inspector may need to look at a larger area.

For example, it's important to understand what sort of asbestos material could lurk in the soil. Bonded asbestos products like cement sheets pose the lowest risk because it takes a lot of force to break up and disperse the fibres. Friable loose fibres (often found in insulating material) present the highest risk.

In many cases, it can become expensive and complex to arrange for an adequate inspection. As such, many businesses opt to pay for clearance processes that meet the legal requirements for disposing of asbestos contaminated material, even if there is no immediate evidence of the material.

Dealing with contaminated soil appropriately

In 2008, the Australian government introduced strict new guidelines for the removal of asbestos contaminated material (ACM). Only a licenced removal specialist can dispose of contaminated soil, unless you can complete the work in less than an hour. This timescale applies to the end-to-end process, including the time you spend using any machinery and equipment to move the soil.

These guidelines also cover transportation of contaminated material. Handlers must handle material according to strict requirements. For example, you have to make sure the soil is damp when you move it, to stop any fibres getting into the air. In fact, in Australia, you must have a waste transport permit from the Environment Protection Agency to move ACM from one place to another.

In most cases, it's better to contact a removal specialist for any job. Your business could face severe penalties for non-compliance, so it's not worth the risk of cutting corners -- as other companies have discovered.

Failure to meet your responsibilities

Businesses that fail to dispose of asbestos waste and contaminated soil safely face legal penalties. People who suffer injuries as a result of waste exposure can also take legal action against your business.

An Australian telecommunications company could face multiple lawsuits after construction work exposed residents to asbestos. While the company was setting up the national broadband network, workers claim that large amounts of toxic material ended up in landfill sites.

A construction project in Apollo Bay, Victoria, used soil from a car park construction to replace lost soil along the foreshore. Members of the public later found small pieces of cement sheeting in the soil. The contractor responsible for the work could face legal action.

High-profile cases like this can damage your company's reputation, and, if legal action follows, you could face hefty fines. As such, it's always better to pay an expert to handle asbestos contaminated soil for you. For more information, contact a company like Asbestos Extraction & Containment.