Children at Aboriginal ECEC service exposed to asbestos from contaminated soil

Children at Aboriginal ECEC service exposed to asbestos from contaminated soil

by Freya Lucas

April 26, 2022

Multiple people including children and staff at Yappera Children’s Service Co-Operative in Thornbury Victoria have reported being in “respiratory distress” after soil was dumped on a construction site ten meters from the service.  

 

The soil, the service believes is toxic soil, which may contain traces of toxic carcinogens including asbestos, arsenic and nickel. Two children from the service were “wheezing all day,” and were sent home, the service told NITV News

 

The centre is a short walk from the Aboriginal Advancement League site at Sir Douglas Oval, which will be home to the nation’s first dedicated Aboriginal Women and Girls Sport & Wellness Centre. While the service is said to be excited about the development of the landmark centre, they began to feel concerned as signs warning of asbestos contamination popped up on the site fences.

 

Yappera CEO explained to NITV News that Yappera, and the construction site, sit on the site of an old tip. When Yappera underwent its own renovations, staff became aware of the dangers within the soil.

 

“There are strict safety protocols in place around soil, once you disrupt the soil or move it, it can’t be repurposed. It needs to be removed off-site. That has to do with the carcinogens in the soil,” she said.

 

“We know the soil issues, we’ve soil tested our site when we’ve done renovations. We know the safety measures that need to be in place.”

 

On the day when the soil was moved there were strong winds, and while the children were moved inside, soil continued to enter the building through ventilation and cracks. 

 

“Aboriginal children are known for having respiratory issues, and staff and children are even more vulnerable if they’ve had COVID-19. We feel that this gives those recovering at further risk,” Ms Brown continued, stressing the vulnerability of the children in her care.

 

In communications shared online the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CMFEU), which is advocating for Yappera, the Union alleged that the companies have ignored the safety controls required by State OH&S laws to contain contamination, prevent exposure and reduce risk of people developing deadly diseases and illness.

 

“CMFEU has demanded that McMahon Services Australia provide the Construction Environmental Management Plan so that the potential exposure and harm to the Yappera community and workers can be assessed.”

 

NITV News has contacted McMahon Services and PM Built for comment with no response at time of press.  A WorkSafe spokesperson told NITV News that they have visited the site to “ensure the removal of any asbestos-containing materials is appropriately managed.”

 

According to Ms Brown, since WorkSafe’s involvement air monitoring vents have been installed and large pieces of thick, black plastic have been pulled over the soil, however no work has taken place since early March. 

 

She welcomed the new safety measures but said it was “too little too late,” saying that these measures should have been in place from the start, and that she is concerned for the community.

 

To access the original coverage of this story please see here

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