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October 20, 2018

Asbestos 'needs a ban and a plan' – petition presented

Workers have today presented a petition signed by over a thousand New Zealanders calling on the Government to ban the importation of asbestos and develop a comprehensive plan for the removal of all existing asbestos in New Zealand.

“Asbestos is the biggest workplace killer in New Zealand. It kills at least 170 workers annually: more than twice as many workers as accidental deaths at work. The number of people dying from asbestos related diseases (lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis) is increasing and the Government projections are that it will peak at 300: higher than the road toll,” said CTU Secretary, Sam Huggard.

“New Zealand is out of step with other developed countries. We are still importing asbestos containing products. Australia prohibited the import of all asbestos containing products in 2003. Similar bans in the United Kingdom date to the late 1990s.”

“The CTU, on behalf of all workers, calls for the Government to implement a total ban on the importation of asbestos containing materials. This action is overdue and well behind the action which other countries have taken.”

“We are very concerned about asbestos exposure in Christchurch. Public health experts continue to raise concerns about what the impact will be for workers will be in the decades to come.”

“New regulations are proposed that will significantly assist in the management of asbestos: These should be given the highest priority.”

“However, much more action is needed. The CTU recommends a twelve-point plan to deal with asbestos.”

“Many hundreds more people will die as a result of exposure in the next 50 years. We should act now to ensure that this is the lowest number possible, and that there are no more unnecessary exposures to asbestos,” said Huggard.

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Asbestos 'needs a ban and a plan' – petition presented

Implants 'as dangerous as asbestos'

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Implants 'as dangerous as asbestos'

Families of tragic Aston University workers win cancer payout

Aston University has
awarded compensation to the families of two former workers who died after contracting asbestos-related cancer.

Valerie White and Robert Burns both worked in the Biological Sciences department at the university in the 1960s, 70s and 80s where the pipes in the basement were lagged with the killer dust.

Asbestos insulation boards were cut up on site whilst Mr Burns, who died aged 75, was present.

The dad-of-two worked as a research laboratory technician and had relocated to Cockermouth, in Cumbria, where he died in September 2010 from Mesothelioma, a cancer in the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos.

Mrs White, a former secretary from Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, also contracted the disease and died in October, 2009, aged just 52.

Both victims’ families launched legal action through Birmingham-based solicitors Irwin Mitchell, who secured an undisclosed payout.

Mrs White’s widower Christopher, 61, said: “Valerie’s illness came as such as shock to us and it was heart breaking to see her in pain and watch her strength slowly deteriorate at such a young age, knowing that ultimately there was no cure to the disease.

“Since Valerie died we have been determined to secure justice for her death and we are relieved that our legal team’s persistence paid off having now secured a settlement from Aston University.

“We hope that this will act as a reminder to employers to protect their workers from exposure to asbestos, so other families do not have to watch their loved ones endure so much pain and suffering.”

Jane was married to Robert for 42 years and met him when they both worked in the Biological Sciences department at Aston University. She said: “It was devastating to watch my husband go through so much pain in the final years of his life.

“The fact that he became so ill just from going to work every day is still hard to accept. I am at a complete loss since the death of my soul-mate, which has left a void in my life that has not eased with the passing of time.

“The last four years since Bob’s death have been a terrible ordeal and I am very glad that the case is now over and the university have had to pay for the suffering they caused, although no amount of money can make up for Bob’s suffering or my loss.

“Our daughters and grandchildren miss him as I do and he will never be replaced in their hearts or mine.”

An Aston University spokesman said: “We are pleased that a settlement has now been reached on these two cases, which relate to an earlier chapter in the history of the university.”

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Families of tragic Aston University workers win cancer payout

Education in brief: cuts mooted; 'resistance' quashed

Asbestos removal - Nov 2006

A steering group of union reps, local authorities, governors and asbestos experts has been meeting with DfE officials regularly about the management of asbestos in schools. Photograph: Olivier Pirard /Rex Features

Asbestos saving?

Ministers have considered scaling back the Department for Education’s work addressing the issue of asbestos in schools because of budget cuts, Education Guardian has learned. A DfE document passed to ministers for comment in February, which also featured in these pages last week, says the department could “stop policy work and reduce stakeholder engagement on asbestos”. More than 100 teachers are reported to have died from mesothelioma, a cancer usually caused by asbestos, since 2000.

A steering group of union reps, local authorities, governors and asbestos experts has been meeting DfE officials regularly about effective management of the substance in schools. The civil servant-drafted document warns: “This is an emotive policy area and closing down the current stakeholder group would be controversial … Furthermore, any isolated incident of a school closing due to asbestos will mean we need to be able to respond.

“We are hence proposing to put this on a care and maintenance basis [rather than having permanent officials working on it]. We will need effective stakeholder management in closing down the steering group.”

Ministerial comments on the document suggest the recommendation was provisionally accepted but that the cut would be postponed until after backbench MPs had grilled David Laws, schools minister, on the subject in March this year. The ministerial comment about the proposed cut says: “David Laws [schools minister] says only after the select committee hearing. [The secretary of state Michael Gove] agrees.”

The document suggests the work of two civil servants would be saved if the cut were made.

A DfE spokesperson says: “No work on asbestos in schools has been stopped. We will be launching a thorough review into asbestos policy shortly and the steering group continues to play an active role in informing policy.”

Academy ‘resistance’

Families affected by a move to force sponsored academy status on their primary school are puzzled as to why the plan seems to be forging ahead when the school is improving fast. Snaresbrook primary, in South Woodford, east London, failed an Ofsted inspection in June but its latest unofficial Sats results, released after the inspection, are among the best in the borough, say parents. The school has changed its management team since going into special measures and this month received an Ofsted monitoring inspection that appears entirely positive.

However, the academies minister, Lord Nash, has written to local MP Iain Duncan Smith to say that, while he acknowledged the improvement at the school, “our clear expectation … is that conversion to an academy with a strong sponsor is the best route to assure long-term improvement”.

Anyone reading our leaked DfE document above, which also mentions “ministerial expectations on numbers of academies” may wonder if national academy targets, rather than school-by-school considerations, are the dominant factor here.

Snaresbrook parents are about to hand in a 2,000-signature petition against the plan at 10 Downing Street and are planning to lobby the DfE on Friday.

Another DfE document to come our way offers further evidence of the zeal to create academies. The presentation, given two weeks ago by DfE civil servant Colin Diamond, sets out the goals of the DfE’s academies division to the end of the year. The first four pages of the document set out how many schools have become academies or are “in the pipeline” to do so: 61% of English secondary schools and a perhaps less impressive-sounding 13% of primaries.

Then, under Academies Group Priorities – September-December 2013, the stated goals include “increase the number of primary academies”, “further incentivise primary [academy] conversion” and, presumably in a reference to council areas with few academies, “focus on 18 local authorities where most can be gained”.

The document goes on to talk about the need to “identify schools whose performance brings them in scope for a sponsored solution”, the use of a “whole local authority solution [towards academy conversions] where required” and “more interim executive boards [replacing an existing governing body] where we face resistance and persistent underperformance”. So, Snaresbrook parents can protest if they wish, but the DfE seems to have ways to overcome all “resistance”…

Warwick Mansell

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Education in brief: cuts mooted; 'resistance' quashed

Workers Exposed to Lead and Asbestos, Olivet Management Fined $2.3M

Real estate developer Olivet Management LLC, which owns the former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in the Wingdale section of Dover Plains, N.Y., has been fined $2.3 million.

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Olivet Management LLC, a real estate development and management company that owns the former Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center in the Wingdale section of Dover Plains, N.Y., faces a total of $2,359,000 in proposed fines from OSHA, which cited the company for exposing its own employees, as well as employees for 13 contractors, to asbestos and lead hazards during cleanup operations in preparation for a tour of the site by potential investors.

“Olivet knew that asbestos and lead were present at this site, yet the company chose to ignore its responsibility to protect its own workers and contractors,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “The intolerable choice this company made put not only workers, but also their families, in danger.”

A statement from Olivet Management said the company “has been working together and cooperating with OSHA and other agencies to ensure that our employees work in a safe and healthful workplace.”

An inspection by OSHA’s Albany Area Office was launched Oct. 23, 2013 in response to a complaint. The inspection found that Olivet employees and contractors allegedly were exposed to asbestos and lead while performing renovation and cleanup activities. The work, which was directed and overseen by Olivet supervisors, included removing: asbestos- and lead-contaminated debris; asbestos-containing floor tiles and insulation; and lead-containing paint from walls, windows, door frames and other painted surfaces.

OSHA determined that Olivet “knowingly” failed to take basic safety precautions. The company neither informed their own employees nor the contractors about the presence of asbestos and lead, despite knowing that both hazards existed. As a result, Olivet did not:

  • Train employees in the hazards of asbestos and lead and the need and nature of required safeguards;
  • Monitor workers’ exposure levels;
  • Provide appropriate respiratory protection; post notices, warning signs and labels to alert workers and contractors to the presence of asbestos and lead; or
  • Provide clean changing and decontamination areas for workers, many of whom wore their contaminated clothing home to households with small children.

As a result of these conditions, Olivet was cited for 45 alleged willful violations, with $2,352,000 in proposed fines. Twenty-four of the willful citations address instance-by-instance exposure of workers to asbestos and lead hazards. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirement, or plain indifference to employee safety and health.

Olivet was also issued one serious citation, with a $7,000 fine, for failing to inform waste haulers of the presence of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, meaning asbestos from the site may have been disposed of improperly at an unknown location. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Olivet Speaks Out

Olivet Management said it is reviewing the notice and will address the citations in a timely manner.

“We have the same goals as OSHA, to insure that once construction and renovation work is commenced, all workers will be fully protected against any unsafe and unhealthful working conditions,” said the statement from the company. “Furthermore, being new to New York State, we are grateful for the direction we have been given by both state and federal agencies in helping us move forward with our long term commitment to bring economic development, stability and vibrancy and new jobs to the area in the most effective and efficient manner as possible.”

Olivet said it will be taking a close look at the extensive citations and penalties that OSHA issued “in the hope of working with the agency to resolve them.”

Due to the willful violations found at the site, Olivet has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer’s facilities or job sites.

Renovation and cleanup activities can generate airborne concentrations of asbestos and lead. Workers can be exposed to both through inhalation or ingestion. Exposure to asbestos can cause disabling or fatal diseases, such as asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma and gastrointestinal cancer. While lead exposure can cause damage to the nervous system, kidneys, blood forming organs, and reproductive system.

In January, EPA ordered Olivet to stop all work that could disturb asbestos at the facility. EPA’s investigation is ongoing.

The company said it will work “with all affected parties to revitalize these many acres of property which have been unused and remain in their original condition when the state of New York closed all state hospitals facilities 20 years ago.”

Olivet Management said it plans to continue moving forward on the project and is “committed to for the long term.”

Olivet has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission.

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Workers Exposed to Lead and Asbestos, Olivet Management Fined $2.3M

Asbestos concerns remain for rail workers – RMTU

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union says some KiwiRail locomotives have tested positive for loose asbestos fibres and that a plan to return the locomotives to service is premature.

KiwiRail and union officials are meeting in Auckland today and tomorrow to discuss the results of a second round of testing for asbestos in 40 DL locomotives.

The union remains concerned at the reintroduction of the locomotives, and had hoped to clarify a number of these concerns at the meeting, but was disappointed to see the meeting pre-empted by an announcement from KiwiRail last night, Rail & Maritime Transport Union General Secretary Wayne Butson said.

“One of the locomotives returned a positive result for loose asbestos fibres. The presence of loose fibres is of huge concern to us, as it is loose fibres that have the potential to be respirable.

“The first round of test results turned up negative for airborne asbestos fibres or asbestos dust. Now, the second ones are showing presence of asbestos in some locomotives. We need to see a comparison between the first and second round of testing for each locomotive, in order to understand why some have gone from negative to positive.”

“We also need to know at what point the asbestos in the locomotives becomes prone to releasing respirable fibres. Testing for this must be done proactively, rather than reactive testing that identifies a danger after our members have already operated or repaired the locomotives.”

“KiwiRail’s statement yesterday was presumptive as we are meeting with the company today and Wednesday to discuss whether or not the locomotives will be returned to service and operated by our members,” Wayne Butson said.

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Asbestos concerns remain for rail workers – RMTU

Railway workers exposed to asbestos in Chinese-made trains

China is now the world s largest user of white asbestos.
ABC China is now the world’s largest user of white asbestos.

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.

Workers reassured despite dangers

Mr Nanva said workers were initially told there was nothing to worry about.

“They were assured on numerous occasions that there was nothing to be alarmed about, but on subsequent testing of that dust they have identified asbestos,” he said.

Last month, at a cost of more than $1 million, the locomotives were pulled from service.

Most were quarantined at SCT’s centre at Penfield in northern Adelaide, where professional asbestos removalists in protective suits and masks have been stripping the asbestos out of the trains.

The company’s subsidiary Specialised Bulk Rail says its first priority has been the safety of its staff, some of whom it concedes may have been at “some risk” when the asbestos-containing insulation blankets were “damaged or ripped”.

Mr Nanva says the workers would have been regularly at risk.

“These are maintenance workers that repair these trains day in, day out, and would have been exposed to these fibres day in, day out,” he said.

Chief executive of the Asbestos Safety & Eradication Agency Peter Tighe says it shows certifications from China are questionable.

“It’s another example, I think, of the lack of compliance in relation to certification from Asia, and more specifically China, that asbestos-free certification is really questionable out of those areas,” he said.

Asbestos ban broken before

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.

“The risk of lung cancer from white asbestos may be more than from blue asbestos given the same amount of exposure,” he said.

Growing cancer epidemic in China

Much of China’s white asbestos has been mined near Mongolia by prison labour.

Conditions there and in Chinese factories are extremely dusty and long-term studies of asbestos workers have revealed a growing cancer epidemic.

Mr Navna says asbestos is a “ticking time bomb”.

“The fact that you have family station wagons, trains, numerous components from China being imported into Australia without the requisite checks is a grave concern to us,” he said.

“It should be a great concern to Australian consumers.”

The giant state-owned China Southern Rail, exhibiting at this week’s AusRail conference in Sydney, said in a statement that asbestos was clearly excluded from the specifications for the locomotives. It blames a sub-contractor for supplying the asbestos and insisted it will not happen again.

But, CSR’s assistant general manager Li Huling said: “Although there was an explicit restriction in the use of asbestos, the interpretation of the definition of asbestos by our sub-contractor did not include chysotile [white asbestos] – as it was widely used in the world.”

Several cases of Chinese companies breaking asbestos ban

White asbestos use in Asia is expanding, and China is not the only country to break the Australian ban.

Recently asbestos was discovered in engine gaskets of two tugboats imported from Singapore in 2008 for use in the port of Fremantle.

Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers assistant federal secretary Martin Byrne says two tugboats that came to Australia had asbestos-free certificates.

“There were declarations by the shipyard that built the vessels that there was no asbestos-containing material at all in those vessels,” he said.

“When we started to work them and needed to repair them and started to have to take them apart, it was discovered that there were asbestos-containing materials.”

Like the train drivers’ union, Mr Byrne says the marine engineers institute has bitter experience from past exposures to asbestos of its tragic consequences.

“We get the phone calls. We have the members coming to us after they had the diagnosis from the doctor of mesothelioma,” he said.

“I know, personally, deep inside me, that as soon as the guy tells me that it’s a death sentence.”

Mr Nanva says he is now wondering whether Sydney’s new fleet of Waratah passenger trains – part of which were sourced from China – might also contain asbestos, something Transport for NSW says it is satisfied is not the case.

“We have no confidence that any component or train that is manufactured in China and imported into Australia is free of asbestos,” Mr Nanva said.

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Railway workers exposed to asbestos in Chinese-made trains

Asbestos found at Sydney Harbour Bridge left uncovered

Some 150 Sydney Harbour Bridge maintenance workers have walked off the job as testing continues into asbestos contamination.

The site was shut down and a stop-work order was issued this morning after a meeting between union representatives and the NSW Roads and Maritime Service (RMS).

Meanwhile, to remove piles of broken asbestos believed to have been thrown from a truck in Sydney’s inner west in the early hours of this morning.

A pile of uncovered asbestos left by private contractors called in to fix a blocked drain was found on Wednesday night near the workers’ lunchroom and toilets at the Harbour Bridge.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) NSW secretary Brian Parker says the workers are worried they and their families have been exposed.

“We don’t know the level of exposure, we don’t know if it’s all clear … there has been some clean-up of the area but the testing results will identify if it is all clear,” he said.

RMS has admitted that asbestos uncovered at the bridge was not immediately sealed after it was found.

Yesterday, with the agreement of management after the asbestos was found.

RMS initially issued a statement saying the site of the Harbour Bridge asbestos discovery had been immediately isolated and sealed after plumbers had uncovered asbestos pipes under cement.

But when asked by the ABC about eyewitness accounts of uncovered asbestos, it issued a “clarification”.

“Once testing determined the presence of asbestos, the area was isolated,” RMS said in a statement.

CFMEU safety co-ordinator Michael Preston says he was called to a site near the southern pylon of the bridge yesterday after a worker noticed a pile of asbestos.

“When I got to the site there was still some open pieces just in the bin, and they were in the process of taping up the rest, getting it ready to send off,” Mr Preston said.

Airborne asbestos can cause life-threatening lung diseases, often many years after exposure.

Mr Preston says an exclusion zone should be set up immediately if asbestos is found, before specialist asbestos workers wearing protective equipment seal the area.

But Mr Preston says he witnessed people bagging the asbestos in an un-cordoned area yesterday morning, without protective equipment.

No official from RMS was available to speak directly to the ABC about the incident.

A spokesperson says workers were allowed to leave the job yesterday so the asbestos could be removed.

“We are coming across it daily on construction sites, workers are being exposed and it is just not being dealt with seriously enough, anywhere,” Mr Preston said.

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Asbestos found at Sydney Harbour Bridge left uncovered