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ASBESTOS found in Chinese-built coal wagons posed a ‘‘negligible’’ risk to employees and the public, coal train company Pacific National said yesterday.
But railway insiders are not so sure, saying Pacific National workers have been told to wear face masks while inspecting the trains, which run on Hunter suburban lines.
‘‘What about the people on the station when the trains go past?’’ one railway source said.
‘‘They say the asbestos is safe because it’s ‘bonded’ on ‘wear plates’ but wear plates are designed to wear.’’
The asbestos could be in more than 200 wagons, with each wagon bogie having four wear plates.
The wagons are believed to have been in service in the Hunter for at least two to three years.
The asbestos is the second lot found in Chinese-built railway machinery used in the Hunter coal industry, after Bradken was forced to quarantine two locomotives in January that had been imported as ‘‘asbestos free’’.
Unions pushing to preserve Australian jobs in the face of Chinese onslaughts have seized on the asbestos contamination as proof that the imports are false economy. The ACTU said during the Bradken incident that the Chinese ‘‘asbestos-free’’ certificates were ‘‘not worth the paper they were printed on’’.
In a statement yesterday, Pacific National confirmed it had discovered a ‘‘a low level of asbestos material in a bogie wear plate’’ on a wagon in Newcastle.
‘‘The asbestos is in a ‘bonded’ or ‘non-friable’ form and, as such, provides negligible exposure risk to employees and the general public,’’ the company said. ‘‘Nonetheless, immediate action has been taken to contain the equipment.’’ No maintenance work will be carried out on the affected wagons until further notice and a safe handling and removal procedure is being implemented.
‘‘A third party occupational hygienist has been engaged and will conduct air monitoring as a further assurance to the health and safety of our employees.”
The Newcastle Herald understands a Pacific National risk assessment named two classes of Chinese-built wagons, RHDH and NHDH, and that at least 200 wagons were involved.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union organiser Steve Wright said the union learnt about the problem last week but had been told everything was under control.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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