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Identifying And Handling Asbestos Soil Contamination

According to the Contaminated Sites Act 2003 (CS Act) of Western Australia, contaminated sites are those portions of land which may have turned out to be polluted with agents or materials which might present a danger to the health of human beings and the environment.

They include the soils, sedimentary substances, ground and surface water. The contamination could have occurred due to a variety of human based activities including those by industries. Such sites require to be appropriately managed, frequently through soil remediation.

A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos is produced in the ground. Nonetheless, most of the asbestos found in the soil all over the areas are as a result of:
  • Buildings and structures which contained asbestos and were not pulled down and or appropriately disposed.
  • Soil contaminated by asbestos which may have been utilized as land fill or top soil.
Chances are that if a building was constructed before 1990, materials containing asbestos can be found within the surrounding soil, mainly produced due to bad construction, landscaping practices or demolition.

What Risk Does Asbestos In The Soil Pose?
For the asbestos in the soil to become a risk to human health, the fibres must be freed into the open air and then get inhaled. The risk posed is dependent on the usage, amount and type of the asbestos material contaminating the soil.

Bonded asbestos poses the lowest risk because the fibres are tightly bonded inside the matrix needing much force to free the harmful fibres into the open air. The greatest danger is inside friable impermanent fibres that are found inside the soil which are easily freed whenever the soil gets disturbed.

Asbestos In Soil Management
To identify the nature and kind of asbestos contained in the soil is vital towards assessing the risk posed and consequently forming suitable management and control measurement plans. Soil testing for asbestos may verify asbestos presence in the soil though the technique of sampling is critical because presence of asbestos in the soil is certainly not homogenous.

Monitoring asbestos in the air is generally suggested to calculate any potential risk when shifting asbestos in the soil, especially during earth moving and construction work.

Asbestos Soil Remediation
Asbestos soil contamination is the major worry for the public and the Government departments. There is currently little guidance in Australia for asbestos contaminated locations remediation. Consequently without any proper and streamlined consultation, unplanned asbestos removal procedures are generally a regular happening across Australia.

In a March 2013 Report to the Environment Protection Authority by Associate Professor Tim Driscoll, asbestos is nearly only a threat to human health when in a breathable form. The Report says that it is all right to re-work and re-use previously asbestos contaminated soil as long as it has been remediated appropriately.

After the soil has gets remediated or the levels of contamination found to be within accepted levels of concentration, the production potential of breathable fibres is very low. These findings were contained in the use of Asbestos-Contaminated Soils in Barangaroo area.
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