Wharfies angered by asbestos discovery

Dock workers (back from left) Gareth Jones, Glen Heaton, Shane Burley, (front) Mark Westaway and Allan Cross worked with shipment of contaminated soil from Barangaroo for a week. Picture: MELANIE RUSSELLIllawarra wharfies responsible for handling the soil shipped from Barangaroo to Port Kembla say they feel betrayed after asbestos was found in the first shipment.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) this week revoked developer Lend Lease’s permission to ship about 600,000 tonnes of soil to Port Kembla after a small amount of the deadly substance was spotted after it was unloaded.

But that was no comfort to angry dock workers who said they had been told the fill was clean and had spent almost a week handling the material without the proper protective clothing.

Unions yesterday imposed a ban on receiving any further shipments from Barangaroo or conducting any more work that involved handling the material until they were satisfied there were no health risks.

The Mercury spoke with stevedores who were angry at Lend Lease and worried about their own and their families’ safety.

‘‘We got told by them that … you don’t need to wear PPE [personal protective equipment] but on their side they were wearing PPE to send it down here,’’ stevedore Glen Heaton said.

‘‘It’s not just me that it’s going to affect. I’ve got relatives that come to my place, I’ve got kids that come to my place … and all the other boys that are going home to their kids.’’

Foreman Mark Westaway, 46, said he felt betrayed.

‘‘Seven days we’ve been working in the dust, coming out of the hopper, seven days before they decide to give us an induction on asbestos,’’ he said.

Maritime Union of Australia southern NSW branch secretary Garry Keane said workers were ‘‘absolutely filthy’’.

‘‘Even if [Lend Lease] had said ‘look, we’re pretty sure there’s no contamination but there’s a possibility so wear the protective gear’, I don’t think you would have had the level of animosity here today,’’ he said.

‘‘Instead they’ve said it’s safe, go to work, seven days after the event they’re now saying ‘go on forward to finish the job off, we’ll throw the proper protective gear into the equation’.’’

He emphasised that waterside workers were not upset with the Illawarra stevedoring company.

A Lend Lease spokesperson said that after a review of procedures it had agreed protective equipment should be worn by workers on the ship and on the wharf while the material was unloaded.

“Once again we would highlight we correctly followed the procedures that the EPA had approved, which include an unexpected finds procedure which has been implemented at Port Kembla,’’ he said.

‘‘The small quantum of fibro identified has been removed by a qualified hygienist in accordance with regulations. No airborne asbestos has been detected.”

Strong winds buffeted Port Kembla yesterday, including the area where the first 13,000 tonnes had been stockpiled.

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