'Be wary about free mulch' amid asbestos fears: agency

Victorians are being urged to steer clear of free garden mulch from online marketplaces after asbestos was detected in one batch.

The warning comes after the state's Environment Protection Agency conducted precautionary inspections of commercial mulch producers after asbestos was found in the soil of a Sydney park leading to more discoveries in NSW and Queensland.

The agency inspected 59 producers in Victoria and found no traces of asbestos in their garden mulch products. 

While most producers had good systems and processes to ensure clean mulch, six were required to strengthen their controls to prevent contamination from occurring.

Free garden mulch from popular online marketplaces has come to the attention of the environment regulator after a Heathmont resident received mulch containing building rubble and asbestos.

This demonstrates why garden mulch should only be obtained from reliable sources where quality checks are enforced, the agency said.

“I urge the community to watch out for anyone offering garden mulch who can’t demonstrate they follow appropriate high standards and quality checks to avoid contamination," agency director of regulatory services Duncan Pendrigh said.

People who suspect their mulch might contain asbestos should not disturb it and instead contact the agency.

Asbestos testing was triggered after fragments of bonded asbestos were detected in Sydney's Rozelle Parklands.

At least 75 sites, including parks and schools, have since been confirmed to be contaminated with traces of the materials.

Queensland authorities have identified at least 90 sites for investigation after contaminated mulch was taken from two stockpiles.

The Environment Protection Agency has taken legal action against four Victorian individuals or businesses over the mishandling of asbestos in the current financial year.

Businesses found guilty of mishandling the material could face penalties of up to $2 million.

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