Railway workers have been exposed to potentially hazardous asbestos after the deadly dust was found in locomotives brought in from China.
The breach of a 10-year ban on the import of products containing the carcinogenic fibre is not the first incident of its kind.
Unions are now demanding tougher policing of Chinese imports, describing the current asbestos-free certificates as a farce.
Last year freight carrier SCT imported 10 locomotives made by China Southern Rail (CSR) to tow iron ore bound for China to port.
To comply with the decade-old Australian ban on asbestos imports, they were certified asbestos-free. However, this was not the case.
National secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union Bob Nanva says maintenance workers raised concerns about the dust.
“We had our maintenance workers repairing a number of diesel engines,” he said.
“They identified a lot of white dust among those engines and asked the question as to whether or not that dust was safe.”
The workers’ concerns were justified. White asbestos — or chrysotile — was found throughout the locomotives, in insulation around the exhaust and muffler system, around coolant pipes and in the brake exhaust section near the roof of the driver’s cabin.
This is not the first time China has broken the Australian ban on asbestos.
Last year more than 25,000 Chinese-made Great Wall, Chery and Geely cars were recalled after asbestos was discovered in their engine gaskets and brakes.
In decades to come experts expect hundreds of thousands of Chinese casualties from asbestos.
A 1980s film by Szechuan University smuggled out from China shows the tragic story of China’s own Wittenoom — at Dayao, in the province of Yunnan — where asbestos exposures had led to the fatal cancer — mesothelioma.
Back in Australia, it was the same type of blue asbestos, from the Wittenoom mine, that lined Melbourne’s blue Harris trains, potentially poisoning passengers when the walls were broken.
So dangerous were the trains they were sealed in plastic and buried in quicksand at a quarry in Clayton.
Blue asbestos, which is more likely to cause the cancer mesothelioma, is now banned in both countries — but China is now the world’s largest user of white asbestos, which Perth’s asbestos expert Professor Bill Musk warns still causes cancer.
H/T to Craig Zeni for the link.