Farmer seeks compensation from council over asbestos contaminated mulch

Lawyers have sought compensation for a farmer involved in a legal dispute about contaminated mulch allegedly bought from a council waste facility in Allora. (Google Maps)

By Jeremy Cook

A farmer has sought compensation from the Southern Downs council in the latest development of a half-a-billion dollar lawsuit launched six years after asbestos contaminated topsoil was spread across a school oval in Warwick.

In documents filed in Brisbane’s District Court, lawyers for Gladfield-based El-Paso Farms alleged the Southern Downs Regional Council breached its “duty of care” by supplying them with asbestos contaminated mulch from a council waste facility in Allora.

The mulch was later sold by El-Paso farms and used in topsoil spread across a sporting oval at Warwick Central State School in December 2017.

Court documents, seen by Warwick Stanthorpe Today, showed the farmer had claimed damages from the council for alleged “negligence”.

The development formed part of a lawsuit, launched by the Queensland government late-last year, which also alleged “negligence” on behalf of the council and sought damages from both parties for costs totalling $585,845.63 to decontaminate the oval.

The case centred around the Allora Waste Transfer Station where the Southern Downs Regional Council had been mulching green waste disposed of by members of the public since at least November 2013.

Up to 500 cubic metres of mulch was alleged to have been supplied from that facility to El-Paso Farms in the three years prior to December 2017.

The state government alleged asbestos had been discovered there on three separate occasions in 2016, 2011 and 2010.

Documents filed in March revealed El-Paso Farms would blend the mulch with cow dung on the farm’s night paddock to create topsoil which would later be sold to customers.

Had the council exercised “reasonable skill”, lawyers argued the farm “would not have supplied” the state government with contaminated mulch and the school would not have incurred damage.

In its initial defence, the council claimed “there was clear signage” at the facility warning against the dumping of prohibited asbestos-contaminated material.

Council solicitors argued testing every green waste deposit for asbestos “would have been disproportionate and unreasonable”, court documents showed.

The defence was rejected in its entirety by the state government.

El-Paso Farms claimed damages related to remediation work of the paddock where contaminated mulch had been spread, livestock, health issues suffered by the farmer and their family, as well as legal costs.

Southern Downs Regional Council was approached for a statement. A spokeswoman said “given this is a legal matter, council will not be able to provide comment”.