An ongoing investigation by the Socialist Equality Party
Findings released at news conference
Workers Inquiry commissioners challenge BHP
The commissioners of the Workers Inquiry into the Wollongong leukaemia and cancer crisis have publicly challenged BHP to refute the scientific evidence produced by the 10-month investigation.
The challenge was issued during a well-attended and often fiercely-contested 70-minute news conference in Port Kembla, where the commissioners released their findings on September 11.
Conscious of the political implications of any exposure of the direct connection between industrial pollution and cancer, national and local media organisations sent teams of reporters, photographers and camera crews to the press conference.
The Nine Network, Channel 10, ABC TV and radio, and Australian Associated Press attended, along with Prime and WIN TV, the Illawarra Mercury, the Wollongong Advertiser, the Lake Times and ABC radio Illawarra.
As soon as the commissioners had outlined their findings, a series of sharp exchanges ensued between the commissioners and journalists who attempted to debunk the Workers Inquiry, echoing the response of BHP.
An ABC TV journalist claimed that the investigation was flawed simply because none of the commissioners were scientists or doctors.
Socialist Equality Party assistant national secretary Linda Tenenbaum, one of the commissioners, replied that the commissioners represented the working class -- the workers, victims and local residents most affected by industrial pollution.
Decisive evidence had been presented by scientists and doctors such as environmental scientist Chris Illert, mathematician Daniela Reverberi and Dr Evan Whittaker. Other scientists, doctors and academics had been prepared to assist, but did not testify after pressure from BHP, the unions and the government.
Darren Roberts, a Channel 10 reporter, cited a BHP claim that the Workers Inquiry lacked "scientific credibility". Tenenbaum responded with a direct challenge to BHP and the Carr government.
"If BHP says we don't have any credibility or that our findings are false, let them answer concretely.
"Let them explain the Cancer Council statistics -- the inverse square relationship between proximity to the steelworks and the incidence of cancer. Let them explain why in the suburbs adjacent to the steelworks, leukaemia among young people is 14 times higher than average.
"Let them explain why they closed the number 3 battery during the testing of benzene levels. Let them explain why they stopped waste burn offs during that period, and let them explain why no figures were kept of benzene emissions prior to September 1996.
"Let them answer to the community for the levels of pollution that they have been pouring into the atmosphere of Wollongong. We would be very happy to debate anyone from BHP management in a public arena."
Speaking from the audience, environmental scientist Chris Illert said the Workers Inquiry was "a major scholarly investigation". He said he was proud to be associated with a "scientific breakthrough which had broken new ground".
Workers News editor Mike Head, who chaired the news conference, exposed the "scientific credibility" of the Illawarra Public Health Unit, whose report was supervised by a Steering Committee which included BHP itself.
"The Health Unit report was established with two pre-determined conclusions -- that the leukaemia outbreak in Warrawong was a mystery and that BHP was not responsible. Its method was to use data provided by BHP.
"The so-called independent auditor supposedly checking BHP's figures turned out to be Holmes Air Services, a firm that currently works for BHP, has worked for BHP Port Kembla in the past and says in its own report that it would like to work for BHP in the future."
Tenenbaum added: "If the Health Unit was really conducting an investigation which did not have pre-determined results, how could they support the reopening of the copper smelter, another major polluter in this area, before their investigation was completed?
Terry O'Dea, the brother of leukaemia
victim Darren O'Dea, also responded from the audience.
"In a couple of years down the track, this inquiry will make history. And those who oppose it will go down in history for going against it too."
A journalist asked O'Dea whether the Workers Inquiry findings had made his family's grieving any easier.
O'Dea replied: "Yes, it does make it easier. I've been sitting through 10 months of garbage going to the Health Unit's Community Reference Group meetings. I've been fed rubbish, told I was an idiot, told to shut up and go back to what I was doing.
"The Workers Inquiry findings,
which now show why our families died and why other people are
dying, not just of cancers and leukaemias but asthma cases and
the general health of everybody in this area, has made it worthwhile."