A staffer at an Alcoa plant in Western Australia said that management at the factory should have recognized that valves at the facility were laced with asbestos but overlooked the problem. The factory is located in Pinjarra, about fifty miles south of Perth, the state capital. The worker, who wished to stay nameless, released an event report from July 16, 2007. The report said the worker noticed a green gasket had some significant tears. According to the worker, some of the torn pieces resembled asbestos fibers.
An independent environmental testing laboratory examined the gasket sections. The pieces tested positive for chrysotile asbestos, the most prevalent variety of the dangerous mineral. Chrysotile asbestos had been mined in Australia for several decades during the mid-twentieth century. The country’s construction industries also used the mineral extensively, including for insulation, fireproofing and concrete binding applications. Asbestos fibers were used in gaskets and brake pads due to their resistance to temperature changes.
In recent years, scientists have established a link between exposure to asbestos fibers and the incidence of respiratory diseases. Workers who handle asbestos without the benefit of special protective measures can inhale the microscopic fibers. The fibers work their way through the lung tissue and into the pleural mesothelium, a band of cells that surround and protect the lungs. Over several years, the asbestos fibers affect these cells and induce mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer.
The worker told the local press that the company should have taken precautions to insure worker safety after they received the incident report. He said that he estimated that more than a thousand gaskets in the plant contained asbestos. He also said that as many as thirty plant workers may have been exposed to the toxic material. At last report, the older gaskets had yet to be removed or replaced.
Michaela Southby, the media communications manager for the plant, told a local newspaper that the company learned about the gaskets in April of this year. She said that a local engineering company supplied some of the valves at the Pinjarra refinery. The valves were later found to have gaskets laced with asbestos. She went on to say that some of those older valves had been found at the site and that the company has instituted processes “to deal with this (issue) appropriately.”
Another incident involving asbestos has also surfaced in Western Australia. A plan for a residential development near an asbestos dump in Gwelup, a town ten miles north of Perth, has raised the ire of local residents and political leaders. The Western Australia state government has already approved the plan, but politicians and public health officials are concerned about safety issues.
Last spring, residents learned that the planned site for the Erindale Grove subdivision also contained a landfill holding large quantities of asbestos-laced debris. Sally Talbot, a leader in the local opposition party, said that she saw the government’s approach as “inadequate” and “very worrying”. Sharon Cooke, a local council member, urged residents to register any possible asbestos exposure to the country’s Asbestos Diseases Society.