The discovery of asbestos clusters in residential areas throughout Greater Sydney has raised concerns among local communities and the construction industry. The issue highlights the risks associated with contaminated ‘clean fill’ being used on development sites, endangering human health and affecting land value.

 

Learn how contaminated clean fill can infiltrate developer projects, identifies warning signs to look out for, and offers guidance for builders and developers to prevent such risks on their sites.

Our team can test & classify soil, groundwater & hazardous materials within days.

How contaminated fill ends up on construction sites

 

The incident involving asbestos-contaminated mulch delivered to Rozelle Interchange, despite undergoing 30 tests, raises the question: how does ‘clean fill’ end up contaminated on job sites? The issue often stems from supply chain lapses. Clean fill, or Virgin Excavated Natural Material (VENM), frequently arrives at sites without proper testing or a valid clearance certificate. Common ways in which contaminated fill ends up being used as clean fill on construction sites include:

Non-environmental reports: A common issue arises when builders rely on geotechnical reports, which do not adequately test for asbestos and other contaminants, instead of conducting comprehensive environmental site investigations by a certified environmental consultant. 

Fake certifications: contaminated fill disguised as ‘clean’ also occurs when fraudulent classifications (i.e. fake receipts of soil classification) are used to pass contaminated soil as clean fill. 

Suppliers ‘gaming’ the testing process: Industry watchdogs have found that when construction waste being recycled as clean fill did not meet EPA contamination limits, suppliers would request retesting until limits were met. 

Illegal dumping and drift: Contaminants can also infiltrate clean fill sites through illegal dumping practices and environmental drift, further complicating the matter

    Geotechnical reports do not test for specific contaminants like asbestos. Get your fill tested & classified before it enters your site by qualified environmental consultants.

    The risk of acquiring contaminated clean fill

     

    The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) mandates that contaminated fill must be disposed of safely, either through environmental remediation or by transport to a certified landfill site. 

    Landowners and project managers who accept or unearth contaminated fill on their property risk severe penalties, including fines and potential imprisonment (!), if the contamination isn’t properly managed and removed. 

    Timely construction delays can also occur from EPA or council cease and closure orders put in place until contamination is classified, capped and removed.

    The cost of disposing contaminated fill in NSW is about $300 per tonne, a figure that quickly escalates with the size of the site. Beyond financial implications, there are serious health risks to workers and future tenants. Asbestos in soil, for example, can cause severe lung damage over time, particularly to children and families. Accepting contaminated fill on-site poses severe risks not only to builders and landowners but the communities and environment at large.

    To mitigate these financial and health hazards, it’s crucial to ensure all fill is thoroughly tested and classified by environmental experts before being used on construction sites.

     

    Local environmental consultants you can trust.

    How to make sure your land fill is ‘clean’

     

    Builders, developers and landowners can take a number of measures to reduce the risk of introducing contaminated fill to their construction sites:

    Engage Certified Environmental Consultants: Ensure your clean fill undergoes rigorous testing for specific pollutants, like asbestos, by environmental professionals with the current credentials. It’s crucial that your landfill is classified by experts with valid qualifications. 

    Verify Receipts and Testing Certificates: The expense of removing contaminated landfill can lead to bad practice and fake classifications. Prior to accepting ‘clean’ fill, verify the certification source, the testing facilities (preferring those accredited by NATA), and request receipts or proof of testing.

    Demand Testing at Various Depths: To fully understand the extent of contamination, make sure clean fill has been tested beyond topsoil at multiple depths. This approach helps identify the full scope of pollution.

    An environmental consulting partner can efficiently test and classify your landfill, ensuring compliance and safety. Contact our team for professional assistance with soil, groundwater, and hazardous material testing. We’ll help validate your land quickly and keep your construction project moving forward.