Punishments increase for asbestos offences in New South Wales

Several people in Sydney, Australia, have pleaded guilty to asbestos transporting and dumping offences. And now the State government has introduced much stiffer punishments to deter such conduct.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Stiffer penalties for the criminal transport of asbestos are now available for imposition on offenders in New South Wales. The state government announced that it was upping the penalties in November this year after a series of high-profile incidents involving asbestos waste were widely reported in the local media.

One incident involved the disappearance of 600 truckloads of asbestos-containing material from a construction site. As of late August 2018, the whereabouts of 17,000 tonnes of hazardous asbestos-waste was unknown. Another incident involved serial offender Dib Hannah, who advertised to the public that he would deliver clean topsoil, clay, crushed bitumen and the like.

But what he actually delivered was asbestos-containing waste material.

There were also several incidents, as late as 2018 and going back some years, in which truckers dumped asbestos-containing material on residential driveways and even outside children’s pre-school centres.

There have been two main politco-legal responses to such incidents. One was to pass new legislation in the State Parliament. The other was for new regulations to be introduced by the local Minister for the Environment.

The NSW State Parliament passed the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment (Asbestos Waste) Act 2018, which became law on November 28 this year. That law amends an existing law, the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.

Commenting on the asbestos waste amendment legislation while it was still passing through the Parliamentary process, Scott MacDonald, a member of the Legislative Council, said: “this bill will send a strong deterrent message to those who dump asbestos and waste containing asbestos… the Government is serious about protecting the environment of New South Wales and the health of its citizens. The increased penalties will provide a greater deterrent against illegal dumping involving asbestos waste… this bill amends the sentencing considerations… to specifically list the presence of asbestos as a factor a court must consider when sentencing offenders; [it] will apply not just to waste offences but also to other types of asbestos-related offences… The changes contained in this bill will send a strong message that the Government will not tolerate illegal asbestos waste disposal and handling.”

In the new law is a provision that increases the penalties for asbestos offences including the unlawful transporting of waste.

Section 143 reads: “if a person transports waste to a place that cannot lawfully be used as a waste facility for that waste, or causes or permits waste to be so transported [then] that person, and… the owner are each guilty of an offence.”

Penalties range up to A$1m for a company and up to A$250k for an individual.

Meanwhile, the NSW State Minister for the Environment, Gabrielle Upton, also introduced regulations that further toughen the law surrounding the transport of asbestos.

Section 78 of the new Protection of the Environment Operations Legislation Amendment (Waste) Regulation 2018 makes it compulsory for any person who is transporting asbestos waste to ensure that any part of any vehicle in which the person transports the waste is covered, and leak-proof, during its transportation. Friable asbestos must be transported in a sealed container and bonded asbestos must be transported in secure packaging. Large fines can be imposed on offenders: 400 penalty units for a corporation and 200 penalty units for an individual. An NSW penalty unit is currently A$110.

In early December 2018, the state government welcomed three guilty verdicts against the owner of a Sydney transport company. Sami Ali was found guilty by the Parramatta Local Court of failing to answer questions in relation to the removal of 1,400 tonnes of asbestos-containing material from a building site. Another defendant, a company called Aussie Earthmovers, is also being prosecuted. A third defendant, Paul Mouawad has pleaded guilty to two charges of supplying false or misleading information in relation to the transport and disposal of waste. Meanwhile, earlier this week, Mr Mouawad was given 18 months in jail for his part in a related offence of carrying out invoice fraud worth A$225k in respect of the false disposal of asbestos-waste.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause deadly cancers.

It can cause fatal cancers of the linings of the lungs and the lower digestive tract. It also causes cancer of the actual lungs themselves. It causes serious scarring of the lungs – which causes increasingly severe shortness of breath and then death. Inhalation may also cause pleural thickening – a thickening of the linings of the lungs – which causes a shortness of breath and chest discomfort.

The World Health Organization estimates that there is a global exposure of about 125 million people to asbestos; it further estimates that asbestos exposure kills about 107,000 people each year.

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Jim Wilson, Australia Correspondent

Sydney-based journalist and photojournalist, Jim Wilson, is the Australia Correspondent for FreightWaves. Since beginning his journalism career in 2000, Jim has primarily worked as a business reporter, editor, and manager for maritime publications in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. He has won several awards for logistics-related journalism and has had photography published in the global maritime press. Jim has also run publications focused on human resources management, workplace health and safety, venture capital, and law. He holds a degree in law and legal practice.