Carolyn Ciopicz, left, and Marian Ciopicz, right, with their grandson.

Carolyn Ciopicz, left, and Marian Ciopicz, right, with their grandson. Photo: A

As a child, Marian Ciopicz used to play with his friends in piles of asbestos waste behind the now-notorious Wunderlich factory in Sunshine North.

“It was simply a terrific area for a child to play,” Mr Ciopicz told his lawyers in a deathbed statement in 2014.

“We threw handfuls of waste at each other, they exploded on impact, played hide and seek and war games and so on. When playing there it sometimes felt like we were in a snow storm. The air was full of white or grey dust and we were completely covered in it — hair, ears, all over our clothes and so on. It was great fun.”

The Wunderlich factory in McIntyre Road, North Sunshine in 1956.

The Wunderlich factory in McIntyre Road, North Sunshine in 1956. Photo: Supplied

Mr Ciopicz said children regularly played in the area behind the factory, which extended down to the railway line, but was not fenced off.


It’s believed more than 20 people have contracted asbestos-related diseases from exposure to the factory, which operated until 1982. During peak production in the 1950s to the 1970s, clouds of asbestos dust rose above the factory roof, shrouding nearby streets, coating cars and making its way into homes.

According to Brimbank Council the asbestos on the former factory site — now the Westend Market Hotel — was capped and buried, but nearby residents have raised concerns about rabbits digging in the area and disturbing the deadly waste. It says the EPA is working with the current site owners to manage the risks.

After battling asbestosis for two years, Mr Ciopicz, a 69-year-old father of three and grandfather of six, died in October last year. After he died, his widow, Carolyn, kept up his battle for compensation and recognition that his illness had been caused by exposure to the site.

While justice came too late for Mr Ciopicz, on Thursday a Supreme Court jury awarded his family $467,000 in damages, the first asbestos-related payout in Victoria in a decade.

The jury found that the owner and operator of the former Wunderlich factory, Seltsam Pty Ltd, had negligently allowed Marian Copicz’s exposure to asbestos dust and fibres.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Michael Magazanik said the company had neglected to put up signs warning neighbours of the dangers of the site, or properly fence the McIntyre Road factory.

The jury was told that trucks leaving the factory spilled asbestos dust over local roads, and that fans inside the factory blew asbestos fibres into the air above the factory.

Silvio Comin, who worked at the Wunderlich factory, told the trial there was so much asbestos waste piled in the backyard behind the factory that he had to wear sunglasses to cope with the glare.

He said that dust at times escaped four to five metres into the air above the factory and when it was windy, it was “just like a snowstorm”.

Mr Magazanik said the family’s case had not been about money, but recognition.

“Most of all, this case is about recognition that this factory had caused their husband’s, father’s, grandfather’s death. They only wanted proper recognition. They wanted justice.”

In a statement released by her lawyers, Mrs Ciopicz spoke of her husband and family’s determination to get justice.

“Marian would have wanted me to finish what he started,” she said.

“Marian was a brave man who fought his illness to the very end. If it weren’t for that asbestos factory and its disgraceful pollution we would still have him here.

“Wunderlich let little children use its toxic dump as a playground. That is unbelievable. And so is the fact that they forced us to trial to get justice for Marian.”

Slater and Gordon says it has had dozens of calls from people concerned about their exposure to the site. It is the first asbestosis legal claim to run to verdict in Victoria in a decade. Previous cases have settled out of court.