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Solid Waste Management

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Asbestos Management

Asbestos is a group of fibrous minerals that occur naturally in the environment. Asbestos was widely used in Australia between the 1940s and late 1980s, because of its durability, fire resistance and excellent insulating properties.

Asbestos can cause health problems when fibres become airborne and are inhaled. Once inside the lungs, most fibres are removed by the body's clearance mechanisms. Remaining fibres become trapped in the lungs and, in some individuals result in serious lung diseases (asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma) that may develop years later.

Asbestos-related disease is generally associated with inhaling asbestos over a long period of time. However, a very small number of people may develop mesothelioma after brief exposure. The reason why this occurs is not known, so it is always important to keep exposure to asbestos fibres as low as possible.

Guidelines for Asbestos Management: Roles and Responsibilities for Government Agencies

The Department of Health in consultation with other Northern Territory Government (NTG) Agencies has prepared the 'Asbestos Management Guidelines: Roles and Responsibilities for Government Agencies'. The purpose of these guidelines is to help clarify NTG Agencies' roles and responsibilities for managing asbestos issue, especially in the determination of the lead agency in an investigation.

The guidelines set out:

  • legislative and non-legislative requirements for dealing with asbestos-related issues
  • legislative requirements for dealing with emergency incidents involving asbestos
  • roles and responsibilities of agencies involved in investigating and/or managing
  • asbestos-related issues
  • emergency incidents (recovery, post event).

The roles and responsibilities for managing asbestos-related issues and emergency incidents are shared by various government agencies. In certain circumstances, a single agency is involved and in others, a number of agencies work together to resolve a problem. For emergency incidents, emergency service agencies get involved in the response phase of the incident and one or more other agencies manage the post event issues that may arise.

For all situations involving more than one agency, it is essential that communication, investigation and management of the issue or incident are well coordinated. This is to ensure that any potential health risks are investigated, to protect both individual, occupational and public health and safety.

The Role of the Environmental Health Branch

The Environmental Health Branch provides a mainly advisory role with a controlling role where major asbestos complaints are received.

Asbestos may be treated as a public health nuisance under public health legislation, as it is similar to any other contaminant (pesticide spray drift, refuse accumulation, rodent infestation etc) or irritant (e.g. dust etc) that might interfere with the general public. Environmental Health therefore will deal with major asbestos complaints in the non-occupational environment as it would for any other public health nuisance under public health legislation.

In relation to asbestos-related issues, Environmental Health acts in an advisory capacity by: 

  • providing information and technical advice on managing health risks associated with public asbestos exposure
  • providing advice for homeowners/occupiers on ways to safely maintain or remove asbestos in the home
  • providing advice on the provisions of the Public and Environmental Health Act and Public Health (Nuisance Prevention) Regulations for a potential asbestos nuisance situation. Under these provisions, the owner of a property or person causing a nuisance must take all reasonable steps to eliminate the nuisance. In this context, a 'nuisance' could be the spread of dust or fragments potentially containing asbestos
  • assisting the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport (NRETAS) with public health advice on asbestos-related issues (as requested)
  • advising the public on the potential health risks associated with asbestos in the home.

Asbestos in the Workplace

NT WorkSafe has developed information bulletins to provide guidance to manage and control risks associated with the presence of asbestos in the workplace.

Asbestos Management Project in the 73 NTNER Communities

As part of the Community Cleanup Program implemented under the Northern Territory National Emergency Response (NTNER), the Australian Government engaged specialists to undertake asbestos surveys of the 73 NTNER communities to identify the locations and condition of Asbestos Containing Material. Refer to the Department of Construction and Infrastructure for more information including the extent of surveys, asbestos removal, and the Asbestos Register for the 73 NTNER communities. 

Asbestos Removal

NT WorkSafe can provide information about the asbestos removal including licensing requirements for asbestos removalists and a list of approved asbestos removalists.

Asbestos Disposal

NTEPA (Northern Territory Environmental Protection Agency) has developed guidance notes to assist industry, local government, consultants and other relevant parties that need to consider options for disposal of asbestos in the Northern Territory.

DOHA (The Department of Health and Ageing) has developed guidance notes for general householders.

Solid Waste Landfills for Communities

Populations greater than 1000 people

NRETAS has developed guidelines to provide a consistent and environmentally responsible approach to managing solid waste landfills in the Northern Territory so that they can comply with the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act.

Populations less than 1000 people

LGANT (Local Government Association of the Northern Territory) has developed guidelines to provide support to community managers and technical service operators in working towards "best practice" to ensure that waste management is small and remote communities is safe for staff, the community and the environment.

Clinical and Related Waste

Contact Environmental Health (refer to the "Contact Us" page) for further information about the Departmental policy on clinical and related waste management.