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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald

EPA trains big guns on Hunter couple over 'two fragments' of fibro in flood fill

Michael Corling obtained his fill from 'reputable' firms but the EPA is after him.

Millers Forest couple Michael and Cheryl Corling say that when they had to raise a section of their land above the flood plain, they did the right thing from the start, using a reputable local haulier who obtained certified clean fill from a well-known waste management company.

But as the Newcastle Herald is reporting, the EPA was already investigating the Sydney yard for asbestos before it provided the 2000 tonnes or so that went to the Corlings.

Yet the EPA appears to have dropped any investigation of the provider or the haulier, and is concentrating instead on the Corlings after finding what a draft clean-up notice served on the couple describes as two "fragments of fibrous board" analysed to contain asbestos.

Despite its Sydney suspicions, the EPA's pursuit of the Corlings includes a claim that "other waste material" from their land had been "used together" with the new fill in the raised pad, an assertion the couple categorically deny.

There is no doubting the deleterious health effects of asbestos, especially loose fibrous material used as insulation.

But here we are talking about two "fragments" of fibro.

Millions of Australians, including many thousands of people in the Hunter, live in houses made of the material.

Australia still has tens of thousands of kilometres of water mains made of asbestos cement.

Fibro and tile houses like these are common across the Hunter.

We raise this not to dispute that inhaled asbestos fibres are dangerous, but to reinforce a need for proportionality.

After looking at the case, Labor MPs Jenny Aitchison and Kate Washington support the Carlings and say the EPA is going after the victim, not the perpetrators.

On all the available evidence, the Herald agrees.

Ironically, the draft clean-up notice tells the Carlings that if they do what the EPA says, they can go to court to recover their costs "from the person who caused the incident".

That would presumably be the same person or persons that the EPA is apparently unable, or unwilling, to prosecute.

As the EPA often allows large corporates to cap their toxic waste rather than remove it, it should allow the same here, unless the Carlings want the material gone.

But whatever happens should happen quickly, and not at the expense of the Corlings.

Given the lost time and cost so far, the couple should probably be compensated for what Ms Washington describes as "a completely inappropriate application of the law".

A view of the Corling property mound where the EPA says it found asbestos late last year.

ISSUE: 39,654.

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