Near a train station in a suburb of Perth, Australia, a landscape company recently placed 10,000 square-meters of mulch in conjunction with a major renovation project going on at the site.
Unfortunately, it was soon discovered that the mulch contained asbestos, though authorities maintain that it’s non-friable and doesn’t present a risk. Still, locals are concerned about health hazards at the location.
Local resident Bert Russell said his home is just five meters (about 16 feet) from the area in question. He observed the laying of the mulch – and then its removal – and a red flag went up, he said. He contacted the folks at the transit company about his observations.
“He became suspicious when he saw workers wearing face masks and gloves removing the mulch on Wednesday, and queried the matter with the Public Transport Authority (PTA),” reports ABC News in Western Australia.
“If I hadn’t have put my head out the back door and seen this and been alert that something was wrong,” Russell explains, “then it’d have been swept under the carpet. No-one would have known anything about it.”
“I don’t know how bad it is. My grandkids can no longer go out there. Other kids in the street as well,” he added.
Soon, a contractor from the transit authority visited him and told him the risk of asbestos exposure was low, but that didn’t calm the fears of Russell, age 77 and a long-time resident of the area.
The Main Roads authority, in charge of the project, reports that the mulch has now been removed in its entirety, but Russell and his neighbors wonder what will replace it. Will it be just as hazardous? Will they be told the truth or will their worries simply be swept aside?
Still, Main Roads defends their position:
“There were no precautions or actions that the public could take beyond those being taken by the contractor which included immediate restriction of public access to impacted areas and the immediate saturation with water of impacted areas to prevent any potential release of fibres,” they said in a statement to the press.
This may seem like a scenario that wouldn’t happen in the U.S., but it did…for many years. The people of Libby, Montana, home to the tainted W.R. Grace and Company vermiculite mine, often used mulch products that were “enhanced” with asbestos tailings from the mine.
Hence, asbestos-containing mulch was everywhere, from home gardens to school playgrounds.
As a result, Libby residents who grew up breathing in asbestos from mulch and other similar products scattered throughout their town are now being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.
Many literally played in these asbestos-tainted piles for years, so exposure was unavoidable. The real kicker is that W.R. Grace executives were well aware of the dangers of asbestos yet distributed the tailings for use to area residents.
Today, several hundred Libby residents have died and a few thousand are currently seeking care for asbestos-related diseases. Many have sought compensation from W.R. Grace, which has established an asbestos trust to which victims of exposure can apply for much-needed funds for healthcare and other costs.