What Homeownders Can Expect from Virgin Excavated Natural Material

Posted on: 14 October 2015

Australian homeowners will sometimes use clean fill as part of a renovation or construction project. Clean fill is often a quick, effective way to fill a hole or change a building's elevation, but strict rules in Australia govern the sale and use of this material. If you want to buy clean fill material, you may see the term 'virgin excavated natural material'. Find out what this name means, and learn more about what you should expect from this type of clean fill.

VENM versus ENM

According to Australian waste regulations, you can only sell certain materials as clean fill because of the risk of contaminated soil. Contaminated soil can cause problems with the water supply and may even pose a risk to animal and human health. As such, the only excavated material that you can accurately describe as clean fill is excavated natural material (ENM) or virgin excavated natural material (VENM).

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act defines how you can reuse or recycle soil in Australia. What's more the Act has a formal definition of VENM. The definition means that:

  • The material only contains natural clay, gravel, sand, soil or rock fines.
  • The material was uncontaminated by manufacturing, mining or other purposes before it was excavated or quarried.
  • The material does not contain any waste contamination (including sulfidic ores).

If somebody stores or processes soil in any way, they cannot classify the product as VENM. The only type of soil that an expert can classify as VENM is soil that is uncontaminated and chemically stable. Indeed, to attract the VENM classification, the inspector can only look at a soil sample that remains undisturbed.

You can still supply some disturbed materials as clean fill, but the sample can only then get an ENM classification. The ENM classification applies to material that has experienced mild disturbance or limited contamination.

Checking that clean fill is VENM

When talking to a supplier about clean fill, you should have a detailed discussion about the source of the material. Even without laboratory testing, the answers to some basic questions should confirm if the soil is VENM.

Always check with the supplier where he or she got the VENM. If the soil comes from land previously used for any commercial, industrial or agricultural purposes, the soil probably doesn't qualify as VENM. These (and other) activities release chemicals and other materials into the soil that cause long-term contamination.

Nearby activities will often cause similar issues. For example, even if the soil comes from 'virgin' land, a nearby factory or mine will probably still cause contamination.

Some suppliers of VENM will arrange for laboratory tests to confirm that the soil meets the criteria for this classification. If a clean fill supplier carries out these tests, you should ask for evidence of the results. A laboratory will always provide documentation that proves the sample meets the VENM classification.

Natural materials and contamination

Even if soil comes from land subjected to industrial or commercial activities, you should also note that some natural materials could cause enough contamination to prevent a VENM classification.

For example, in some parts of Australia, naturally occurring asbestos can contaminate the soil. Where this happens, the soil is not suitable for clean fill due to the health risks this can pose. Laboratory testing can highlight this problem, but you can also access maps online that show the parts of the country where this problem can occur.

Penalties for non-compliance

People cannot knowingly sell contaminated soil as clean fill, and there are severe penalties for misleading or deceiving buyers about VENM and other materials like this. If you believe that somebody is trying to sell contaminated material as clean fill, you should report the matter to your local environmental agency.

Australian homeowners may need clean fill as part of a construction or renovation project, but it's important to make sure you only pay for material of the right quality. VENM is the best type of clean fill you can buy, but only certain types of soil meet the criteria for this classification.

To learn more about your options, contact companies like Eastern Plant Hire.