An ongoing investigation by the Socialist Equality Party
Opening Report to the Workers Inquiry
My name is Mike Head and I am the editor of Workers News.
Over the past 10 months I have been responsible for leading an independent investigation by Workers News, the newspaper of the Socialist Equality Party, into the leukaemia and cancer crisis, first revealed by Melissa Cristiano.
This work has involved consulting with concerned scientists, doctors and health workers as well interviewing and preparing testimony from victims and their families, workers and ex-workers from the steelworks and the copper smelter, and residents.
Workers News and the SEP launched this investigation because from the outset the leukaemia investigation organised by the Carr government, through the auspices of the Illawarra Public Health Unit was designed to be a whitewash.
Its purpose was to silence the outcry produced by the news of the leukaemia deaths and to protect the interests of the government, the health authorities and business, particularly BHP and the owners of the Port Kembla copper smelter.
The bulk of my submission will concentrate on exposing the fraud of the Public Health Unit's report, finally released last Friday week.
I will show the necessity for an independent working class investigation and also present many of our own findings.
Before turning to the Health Unit's report, I want to make clear its underlying methodology.
The Health Unit began with a predetermined set of conclusions. It then constructed a so-called investigation to arrive at the required results.
The two key conclusions, arrived at in advance, were that the leukaemia outbreak was simply a mystery, the cause of which would never be known, and that BHP was innocent.
This is not conjecture on our part. These two conclusions were stated publicly by the Public Health Unit and BHP almost as soon as the supposed investigation began.
Just six weeks after the Health Unit inquiry was announced on September 5 last year, the two officials heading it, the Unit's director Dr Victoria Westley-Wise and Irene Kreis, the head of the Illawarra Environmental Health Unit, conducted a revealing interview with the Illawarra Mercury.
On October 22, 1996, almost nine months before their report was eventually released, Westley-Wise and Kreis were reported on the front page of the Mercury declaring that the leukaemia crisis "may never be explained".
The pair described the crisis as a mystery, and stated that the chances of unravelling it were extremely slim.
Westley-Wise even described the task of tackling the alleged mystery as a "nightmare" which kept her awake all night because "the main pressure is knowing that people in the community want answers".
Let me emphasise. Nine months before the Health Unit report was released, long before its supposed research was conducted, the results were broadcast publicly.
BHP did not even wait that long before unveiling the second conclusion: that the company was not to blame for the leukaemia cases.
On the day the investigation was announced, its spokesman Jerry Platt, the Port Kembla steelworks Primary Operations group general manager, said there was no evidence linking steel plant pollution to leukaemia.
Last March, BHP felt so confident about the outcome of the investigation that it took out a large ad in the Mercury to announce that it had proof that there was no link between the benzene produced at the Port Kembla coke ovens and the leukaemias.
Four months later it was no surprise that the Health Unit came to the same conclusion.
My submission today will examine the two central conclusions on which the entire Health Unit report hinges.
The first is that despite a rate of leukaemias many times higher than expected among teenagers and young adults in the suburbs of Cringila, Lake Heights, Berkeley and Warrawong, no cause can be established.
In the words of the report: "With the available information it is not possible to ascribe the cluster to any particular exposures."
The second conclusion is that emissions of benzene -- a proven cause of leukaemia and a by-product of the BHP coke ovens -- did not contribute toward the leukaemia cases.
To quote the report: "current environmental benzene levels are considered to represent a negligible leukaemia risk".
In other words, the report asserts that the only thing that can be stated with any degree of certainty is that BHP's emissions of benzene cannot be blamed for the leukaemias.
THE LEUKAEMIA 'CLUSTER'
Allow me to now turn to the first point.
To a large extent the report merely confirmed what had been previously admitted by the Health Unit -- that the number of leukaemia cases among young people in the area was extraordinarily high.
For those under 50 the rate was three to four times the average for the rest of the Illawarra.
However, the report also revealed that the crisis was deeper and wider than initially acknowledged.
Among those aged 14 to 20 at diagnosis
the rate of exceedence was far greater -- 14 times higher than
expected in those four suburbs, which are just to the south of
In addition, the Health Unit also admitted for the first time that the rate of a closely-related cancer -- non-Hodgkins lymphomas -- was very high among those under 50.
It reported nine such lymphomas since 1989 -- double the average -- on top of the 13 leukaemia cases that it counted.
The Health Unit originally attempted to exclude the lymphomas from its report, even though both conditions concern cancers of the white blood cells and are sometimes confused with each other in diagnosis.
Dr Evan Whittaker, a local GP, discovered that in one class alone at Warrawong High School, four students had been diagnosed with lymphoma. He reported this to the Health Unit, only to be told that the Unit was not investigating lymphomas. Dr Whittaker will be testifying later today.
The Health Unit's figures for both leukaemias and lymphomas are a gross underestimation.
The Unit has only counted 13 young leukaemia and nine lymphoma victims who lived in the Warrawong area nearly all their lives and still reside there.
It did not count numbers of other victims -- including:
The best known victim excluded is Bob Churton, who taught at Warrawong High and also Port Kembla High for many years.
In an appendix, the report reveals that it excluded 31 young leukaemia victims living elsewhere in the Illawarra, plus five working in the four selected suburbs.
If these 31 are added to the 13 cases counted, the total is 49 among young people in the Wollongong region diagnosed in six years, plus an unknown number of lymphomas.
The Workers Inquiry has been contacted by a number of young victims or their families who were excluded from the Health Unit study. Among them was the family of one young leukaemia victim who lived all her life at Mangerton, just to the north of the steelworks, and who taught at schools in Cringila, Oak Flats and Dapto.
Another was a former Port Kembla Hospital health worker who left the Illawarra Area Health Service after being diagnosed with leukaemia and moved to the Southern Highlands. When news of the leukaemia crisis broke, she was not contacted by the Health Unit, even though her case was obviously known to them. When she rang the Health Unit its staff were not interested in her case.
Residents of Port Kembla have also given us a list of 18 leukaemia and lymphoma victims, as well as nine brain tumours, since the 1970s, plus the names of five staff from the copper smelter who contracted leukaemia.
We also know of at least four steelworkers with leukaemia.
There is another revealing feature about the 31 victims which the Health Unit admits excluding. The report admits that some had been connected to the four suburbs through residence or schooling. But it gives no information on where they lived or worked.
There is a reason for this. It is part of an attempt to cover over the true pattern of distribution of leukaemias and other cancers.
THE LINK TO THE SMOKESTACKS
The Workers Inquiry has obtained statistics from the Cancer Council's NSW Central Cancer Registry which show a definite link between the leukaemia cases and industrial pollution.
Over a 22 year period, from 1972 to 1994, there is a clear correlation between the total leukaemia cases in the Wollongong area and the distance that the victims lived from the Port Kembla smokestacks and the two cokeworks at Corrimal and Coalcliff.
A full report will be given on these figures by Daniela Reverberi, a mathematician, but I will show you the graph which summarises the results.
Taking the postcode areas of Berkeley, Wollongong and four other areas for which reliable population data are available, the result shows that the average rate of leukaemia is some 10 times higher at Berkeley, 5 km from Port Kembla, than it is at Minnamurra, 17.5 km away.
The curve shows what is known as a statistically significant inverse square relationship between the leukaemia cases and the Port Kembla steelworks.
Such a curve indicates a specific point source of the leukaemias, that is, the BHP plant. There is less than a one in a hundred possibility of that curve being produced by chance.
Further figures taken from the same data show elevated leukaemia risks around Corrimal and Coalcliff, the site of two benzene emitting coke works.
I want to emphasise the significance of these results. They establish with a high degree of mathematical certainty a direct link between the leukaemias and the coke ovens.
They cannot by themselves reveal the precise mechanics of that link but they do establish the link.
We have obtained other figures from the Cancer Council enabling us to plot the individual cases of leukaemia year by year and not just as a 22-year average.
The data also reports ages at the time of diagnosis. The results show that there has been a high rate of leukaemias among children and teenagers over the two decades.
At the same time, the number of young leukaemia victims rose significantly in two periods -- 1981 to 1983 and 1989 to 1992.
As environmental scientist Chris Illert will explain in his presentation of this data, these dates followed high emissions of cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) measured in the atmosphere at Warrawong.
These PAHs are often benzene-related.
Taken together these figures are highly significant.
They demonstrate that the Cancer Council and the Public Health Unit have known for years, or should have known, of a consistent industry-related pattern of leukaemias over two decades, including those affecting young people.
In its report, the Health Unit attempts to disguise this distribution pattern by presenting the Warrawong leukaemia cases as an isolated "cluster" with no proven link to industrial emissions.
There is a particular reasons for insisting that the leukaemias are a "cluster" separated from any wider pattern.
In all her public utterances dating back to last October, Dr Westley-Wise has insisted that "cluster" inquiries around the world have failed to detect causes.
That is, wherever studies have defined high incidences of cancers as geographically limited and temporary clusters the findings have been that no cause can be proven.
The obvious question to ask is who conducted these studies, in whose interest and for what reason? Many of these so-called clusters were near industrial sites.
Just as in Wollongong, the health authorities were no doubt confronted with angry demands for answers. Did they act to protect the interests of business, just as the Health Unit has sought to do here?
The Health Unit report cynically notes that the experience of public health authorities is that most "cluster investigations" are resolved after the first phone call.
This is exactly what the Health Unit attempted to do in Wollongong. The first phone caller, Melissa Cristiano, was dismissed. As her husband Nick and mother Judy will testify, her calls were not returned.
However, Melissa refused to be fobbed off and eventually succeeded in forcing the issue out into the open.
Nonetheless it if was not for the work that Workers News and the SEP have done, the Carr government and the Illawarra Area Health Service would have simply buried this so-called cluster like all the rest.
Then the Wollongong report would have become yet another international study supporting the theory that clusters can never be explained.
In fact, the report refers to a worldwide debate in public health circles "on whether it is worth investigating clusters at all".
An important counter to this trend is provided by a recently published British study.
In one of the largest studies of childhood cancers and leukaemias in the world, Professor George Knox examined the 22,000 cases of those who died before the age of 15 across Britain from 1953 to 1980.
He found that those born within 5 km of an industrial source or 3 km of a motorway or railway to have a 20 percent greater likelihood of contracting cancer or leukaemia before reaching adulthood.
Further, the study demonstrates that the pattern of distribution was not simply one of isolated or temporary clusters. What were previously regarded as clusters in fact formed part of a more general underlying pattern linked to industrial and other fumes. This pattern remained persistent over three decades, regardless of population movements.
Among the industries showing this link were steelworks, although not as markedly as some others, including oil refineries, crematoria and cement works.
This graph shows how the rate of cancers and leukaemias related to distance from steelworks.
These results also correspond to the
cancer statistics provided to Workers News by a leading Wollongong
oncologist Dr Paul Clingan.
Let me emphasise again. This curve demonstrates a definite link to the Port Kembla smokestacks, with a less than 1 percent chance of error.
When we first published these figures, Dr Westley-Wise claimed that the sample was too small to draw valid conclusions. But the sample size -- more than 1,300 -- was an excellent sample. Most opinion polls are based on far less.
Moreover we have now obtained statistics from the NSW Cancer Council showing the distribution of all leukaemia and cancer cases across the Illawarra region over the past two decades.
We have not had sufficient time to adequately prepare this data for this weekend's hearing, but they do confirm a mathematically significant correlation to distance of residence from the Port Kembla smokestacks.
We have also requested and finally received last week from the Cancer Council a complete suburb-by-suburb breakdown of all categories of cancers, including leukaemias and lymphomas.
We intend to fully analyse this data for presentation to the working class as soon as possible.
In its report, the Health Unit admits that it has been contacted by many cancer victims and relatives with information pointing to a high level of cancers across Wollongong, particularly among those who worked in the steelworks or lived nearby.
However it dismisses these reports as merely anecdotal.
It acknowledges a 30 percent higher incidence of bladder cancer among men in the Illawarra, which it concedes is LIKELY to be related to occupational exposures.
It also reveals a 100 percent higher incidence for women and 30 percent higher incidence for men of lung cancer in the Warilla area, which it says MAY be due to occupational exposures.
It further reports a high number of multiple myelomas -- another blood-related cancer in the bone marrow -- among females in the Albion Park-Kiama area in 1978-83.
Yet the Health Unit makes no proposal for any investigation of these high cancer rates.
It then claims that apart from these categories, the level of cancer in the Illawarra region is generally no higher than average.
But what do these figures really mean?
In the first place, the Illawarra region stretches all the way from Royal National Park and the village of Helensburgh in the north to the coastal resort of Kiama in the south -- a region large enough to disguise the impact of the Port Kembla pollution.
Even when the Health Unit report divides the Illawarra into eight regions, they are not related to distance from the smokestacks.
Secondly, the overall comparison with average figures for urban NSW is not valid. There is likely to be a similar pattern of distribution according to distance from industry in other working class areas across the state.
For more than a decade the statistics I have presented today were withheld from the public by the Cancer Council despite written requests by researchers.
It was only the convening of the Workers Inquiry, combined with the growing number of leukaemia and cancer victims speaking out, that forced the release of this material.
In summary, the first element in the whitewash presented by the Health Unit is as follows:
In order to justify a pre-arranged finding that no cause could be found for the leukaemias and lymphomas, the Health Unit has falsely presented them as an isolated phenomenon, separated from the wider epidemic of industry-related cancers plaguing workers and their families.
BENZENE AND BHP
However, the Health Unit had another major problem in reaching its second conclusion: that BHP was not to blame.
Benzene, a by-product of coke ovens production, has been well-documented as a cause of leukaemia since last century.
To cite just one authoritative scientific journal article: "Benzene was initially identified as being a human hematological toxin in the 19th century." ("The Toxicology of Benzene" by Robert Snyder, Gisela Witz and Bernard D. Goldstein, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 100, pp. 293-306, 1993).
The Health Unit report itself admits that theoretically no safe level of exposure to benzene exists.
Depending on other circumstances, even the smallest exposure can trigger the formation of leukaemia and the risk is probably greatest among children, the aged and the unwell.
Dr Victoria Westley-Wise stated at last week's Health Service press conference that her report proceeded on the basis of established public health principles.
One of the elementary principles of public health, however, is the precautionary principle of setting standards to avoid any possible risk.
As a result of large-scale studies of benzene-exposed workers in chemical, petro-chemical and rubber industries in the 1960s and 1970s, the US Environment Protection Agency introduced workplace controls based on the danger that even a small exposure to benzene could cause leukaemia, particularly acute myelogenous leukaemia.
Despite this, the level of benzene allowed under Australian workplace standards has remained 5 times higher than the legally enforceable limit in the US and 50 times higher than the limit recommended by US health authorities.
Furthermore, no monitoring has been required inside the Port Kembla steelworks, except in the gas processing plant of the coke ovens. That monitoring is carried out by BHP itself. No benzene records exist at all for the rest of the coke ovens, including for No. 3 battery, the oldest and dirtiest.
Moreover, no standards have ever been set for atmospheric benzene emissions in neighbourhoods near industrial sources, and no monitoring has ever taken place to measure those levels.
This is important because medical evidence suggests that the formation period for leukaemia can range from less than a year in the case of infant leukaemias to up to 20 years in the case of adult leukaemias. The Health Unit itself estimates an average gestation period of 10 years.
That means that the origins of the leukaemias diagnosed since 1989 will lie in the years before then, in some cases as far back as the early 1970s.
How has the Health Unit sought to overcome that problem? How -- given that no data exists for the past two decades -- has it been able to state with such certainty that past benzene levels were too low to explain the leukaemia cases?
It has done so through the use of a theoretical model constructed by BHP, combined with previous benzene emission assumptions provided by the company. That is, all its estimates and calculations depend on the information supplied by the party whose operations are being examined -- BHP itself.
All the Health Unit's findings hinge on that BHP modelling, in particular the key finding, repeatedly stated, that the levels of benzene in the atmosphere today and over the past two decades have been too low to be of any concern.
Hundreds of analogies spring to mind.
It would be like asking an accused killer to perform the forensic tests for the prosecution.
It would be like asking the tobacco companies to provide an analysis of the health effects of smoking, based on their models for calculating expected lung cancer rates.
To take another recent case, it would be like depending on the demolition contractors who blew up the Canberra Hospital to carry out the investigation into the death of Katie Bender, the 12-year-old girl killed by flying debris.
I will demonstrate that the pre-arranged end result of BHP's modelling is that the estimated benzene levels inside the Port Kembla coke ovens and at nearby Warrawong come in just under the current Australian workplace standard and just under supposedly safe atmospheric levels set by government agencies in Britain.
Yet again, the basic methodology of the report can be seen. BHP and the Health Unit have developed a model designed to reach the required outcome.
The only way that BHP could avoid an adverse finding that would potentially cost it billions in compensation payouts to the families and thousands of workers, as well as require vast and expensive changes to its production facilities, was to find a set of formulae that would clear benzene of responsibility.
That is precisely what the Health Unit report does.
In the first place, the starting point for the modelling backwards over a 20 year period is the only atmospheric monitoring actually carried out -- over just three months -- from September 1996 to January this year.
BHP and the Health Unit have been forced to admit that during that period the number of coke ovens operating at the dirtiest battery, No 3, were reduced, by at least 25 percent.
And they have only admitted this because coke ovens workers reported the partial shutdown to Workers News last year.
The No 3 battery has such a high level of toxic leakages that a federal parliamentary committee in 1982 described it as a "fume-leaking monster" and condemned the company for continuing its operation.
The Health Unit accepts BHP's claims that the cut in the number of ovens pushed per day in Number 3 was only from 64 to 48 and that such a reduction was insignificant. Coke ovens workers will testify here to the contrary.
It must be stressed that this information would never even have come to the light of day except for coke ovens workers contacting Workers News. The Health Unit would have relied upon any figures supplied by BHP.
What is to say that BHP has not similarly rigged the results elsewhere, including in the gas processing plant?
The veracity of BHP's figures on any issue can be demonstrated by referring to another part of the Health Unit report.
Page 92 of Irene Kreis' environmental assessment report states that the level of vanadium, which is a suspected carcinogen linked to animal blood and marrow-related cancers, in basic oxygen (BOS) slag is 2,400 to 2,500 ppm.
Dr Evan Whittaker and Evan Perkins, a West Dapto farmer, have previously obtained a written admission from BHP scientists that the true level is 19,200 ppm, nearly 10 times higher.
For years BHP used to claim that vanadium did not exist in the slag at all or only in negligible quantities.
This is no small point. BOS slag, as well as the more massively produced blast furnace slag, has been sold commercially for landfill and road construction throughout the region.
It is also deposited at the Area 21 dump, just across from Cringila, and the prevailing winds have for years blown its dust over homes and schools.
BHP'S INDEPENDENT AUDITOR
When I challenged the Health Unit's reliance on BHP's benzene figures at last week's press conference, Dr Westley-Wise and the CEO of the IHAS Ian Southwell declared that the BHP report was audited by a private consultant.
Allow me to examine the credentials of that auditor. It is a firm called Holmes Air Sciences, which admits in its own report that it is hardly independent.
Holmes Air Services is currently working for BHP in Queensland, as well as for the EPA in NSW. It has worked for BHP Port Kembla in the past and "intends to make its services available in the future should it be invited to do so".
In addition, Holmes Air Services concedes that it has no detailed knowledge of how the Port Kembla coke ovens and gas processing plant has operated over the past three decades.
It also acknowledges it has done no on-site testing and has depended on BHP staff for advice.
Its representative states: "To assess the appropriateness of the US EPA emission factor for the plant under investigation requires an intimate knowledge of the way the plant operates now (and operated in the past). I cannot claim to have the level of detailed knowledge to do this properly, but it appears to me that BHP have assumed that the Port Kembla plant's emissions can be taken to be the same as the US EPA's average figures. This would appear to be a reasonable assumption."
Yet on the next page, the consultant admits that the BHP model makes no allowance for the topography of the Wollongong area.
Wollongong as a whole is surrounded by a 1,000 feet? escarpment and most of its suburbs consist of valleys ringed by ridges. These features trap the atmospheric pollution in residential areas.
According to the Health Unit report itself on page 60, US EPA studies have shown that the assumption of a flat terrain underestimates atmospheric benzene concentrations by several fold.
Another unique feature of Wollongong not accounted for in the BHP model is the prevailing wind pattern. Winds from the north east take BHP's benzene and other emissions directly over Cringila, Warrawong, Lake Heights and Berkeley.
This map shows how the dispersal of arsenic from the copper smelter was affected by the prevailing winds but the same applies, with some modification, to benzene.
BHP'S 'SAFE' STANDARDS
As I mentioned earlier, the current Australian standard for exposure to benzene at work -- 5 ppm -- is 50 times higher than the recommended US level of 100 ppb.
If the stricter US standard was applied, Port Kembla coke ovens workers have been consistently exposed to average levels between 10 and 40 times above the safe level, even accepting BHP's own estimates.
Big chemical and steel companies like BHP have always fought against the imposition of safe benzene limits, concealing any information that threatened their profits.
We have obtained a report from the Socialist Equality Party in the US of a notorious instance in 1977 when Dow Chemicals covered up a report by one of its geneticists showing massive leukaemia-linked chromosomal damage to employees exposed to benzene levels of less than 10 ppm.
The scientist, Dante Picciano, had to resign from Dow to reveal the information.
Yet today the Health Unit stands shoulder to shoulder with BHP in asserting, on the basis of the patently inadequate Australian standard, that the levels inside the Port Kembla plant have always been safe.
Its report makes a mockery of public health. It relies upon levels set according to the needs of industry, not workers' health.
In the same way, BHP and the Health Unit rely upon a UK standard for atmospheric limits in residential areas -- 5 ppb. This is the supposed safe level set by the Tory government, also with a keen eye to the needs of industry.
Conveniently, the British standard also allows BHP and the Health Unit to claim that safe levels existed in the Warrawong area during the 1970s and 1980s.
If an alternative suggested target of 1 ppb was set, then even BHP's dubious modelled figures would have exceeded the limit by a factor of three or four during most of that period.
It should be noted that these ambient air standards are meant to be far lower than the occupational limits because residents are exposed 24 hours a day, and because children, elderly people and the sick are at greater risk than adult workers.
Even if BHP's figures are accepted, some of the estimates buried away inside the Health Unit report point to residential benzene concentrations for what is known as the "maximally exposed individual" in the neighbourhoods closest to the coke ovens of up to 200 ppb, which is 200 times the suggested Australian target.
At the Health Unit's press conference last week, Dr Westley-Wise was forced to admit that part of the Unit's study was funded by BHP. The company commissioned, paid for and wrote the terms of reference for a key technical report on benzene and leukaemia by Wollongong University Professor Paolo Ricci.
But as I have shown, even more central to the Health Unit's coverup was a report not only funded but also written by BHP -- its report on benzene modelling.
A further fundamental point must be made about BHP's and the Health Unit's benzene statistics. They use averaged figures for benzene emissions, sometimes a 24-hour average, sometimes averages over weeks or months and sometimes lifetime exposure averages.
Such averages smooth over and disguise the episodic bursts which are likely to do the most damage. For a start anyone who lives near Port Kembla can testify to the fact that BHP lets off its worst fumes at night.
One of the features of benzene is that it vapourises quickly and about 80 percent of benzene breathed in is eliminated from the body within two days. Therefore it is likely that exposure to bursts of high dosages are the most harmful.
The Health Unit report itself states on page 47: "There are also uncertainties related to the effect of intensity of exposure, e.g., the potential effect of relatively high short term (intermittent) exposures... Although not conclusive, the results of some mechanistic and epidemiological studies have suggested that benzene concentration may be much more important than exposure duration in increasing leukaemia risk."
Having admitted that, the report simply passes on to the next item. There is no proposal for a study to examine this danger. That would interfere with the conclusion stated by BHP in advance.
To simply illustrate the enormous gap between averaged figures and those showing daily peaks, let me show you two graphs.
These graphs are not of benzene levels, because benzene was not monitored, but they depict the level of PAHs or polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons. Some of these, particularly benzo-pryenes, are indicators of benzene.
The graphs show the PAH levels measured in the atmosphere at Warrawong by BHP during the 1980s and early 1990s. You can see how the 24-hour figures reach very high levels but the monthly statistics average these results down.
These graphs lead me to the next central feature of the Health Unit report. In order to declare BHP innocent, and exonerate the copper smelter owners and other companies as well, the Health Unit must also exclude all the other possible industrial causes of the leukaemias.
For example the PAHs recorded showing high daily levels in this graph are admitted by the EPA in its report to the Health Unit to be "known cancer causing agents ... several hundred times more toxic than benzene".
Yet the Health Unit report treats benzene as an isolated carcinogen.
The list of other known leukaemogens and carcinogens emitted from the steelworks and, for many years, by the neighbouring copper smelter include toluene and xylene, both coke ovens by-products, vinyl chloride, styrene, asbestos, vanadium, arsenic, chromium and cadmium.
To these must be added dioxins, produced in massive quantities from the steelworks sinter plant, just next to the coke ovens, as well as from the copper smelter and hospital incinerators. The sinter plant alone emits about six times the World Health Organisation's "allowable daily dose" for the entire Australian population.
As we have reported in Workers News, workers in the BHP sinter plant have been told nothing about the dangers of dioxins, which have been linked to leukaemias and lymphomas, heart disease, damage to childhood brain and immune system development and birth defects.
None of BHP's modelling takes into account the fact that this is possibly the only residential area in the world where a copper smelter has functioned alongside a steelworks, a superphosphate factory (Incitec), a metal factory (Metal Manufacturers), a metal fabrication shop (Transfield), petroleum storage depots, freight yards, a coal loader, a port and road and rail terminals, with their combined pollution interacting in an unknown manner.
As I have shown earlier, the Cancer Council statistics show a definite link between leukaemia and cancer and the industrial emissions of Port Kembla.
It is the exact mechanisms involved in that link which must be investigated.
But the Health Unit made no attempt to do this. It investigated none of the emissions.
It admits it has not clarified the combined impact of benzene with the rest of the chemical cocktail that pervades the air, soil and water.
Yet it states on page 39: "Interaction (synergism) between carcinogenic risk factors is well-established. The available information -- from animal and human studies -- indicates that when different agents separately increase the risk of cancer at the same body site, exposure to these agents together can lead to at least additive risk and, in many cases, a multiplicative increase in risk...
"However, to date, there are no relevant data concerning leukaemia and the possible interactive effects of different agents."
It is worth pausing to consider the implications of these statements.
Toxic combinations can multiply the cancer-causing properties of individual carcinogens.
But no studies have been done in relation to leukaemia.
Far from opposing the ability of companies like BHP and CRA, the former copper smelter owners, to get away with creating that chemical soup for decades without proper studies, the Health Unit simply declares that the lack of data means nothing can be proved.
It is difficult to imagine a more damning indictment.
No independent investigation has been undertaken.
There has been no probing of emission levels from any of these industries, including the steelworks and the copper smelter. In fact, the Carr government's decision to reopen the smelter is not even mentioned.
In the same way, no testing has been conducted on the steelworks slag, coalwash and other toxic landfill upon which schools such as Warrawong High and Cringila Public have been built, together with housing estates and sporting fields.
The Health Unit admitted this week, in response to a question I put to it, that even the initial request made by Melissa Cristiano, for a soil test at Warrawong High, was not carried out by the Health Unit.
One of the Unit's officers simply visited the school, looked around, and gave the all clear for students, parents and teachers to return to the school.
The only explanation for the failure to do a soil test is provided by the Environmental Assessment report compiled by Irene Kreis and Richard Willison.
On the same page of that report is a passage which reveals the necessity for exhaustive testing of the soil, coalwash and slag, as well as the materials dumped in BHP's nearby Area 21.
This is possibly the most graphic and blatant example of the report's underlying methodology at work.
After describing hell-hole conditions at Cringila, the report abruptly states that no problems were identified. No reason is even offered for that conclusion. To do otherwise would cut across the required end-product: that no causes for the leukaemias can be found.
CONTEMPT FOR WORKERS
This passage I have just quoted also sums up the underlying contempt for the working class expressed in the Health Unit report. It is one of many instances in which the concerns and experiences of youth, workers and residents are treated with disdain.
Allow me to quote just one other glaring passage. It is on page 42:
Again, there is not even a whiff of opposition to the fact that BHP has been allowed to expose so many workers to the risk of cancer without any such study.
Evidence of high rates of cancer in steelworks and coke ovens certainly exists around the world.
For example, as far back as 1971 and 1972 the American Journal of Occupational Health reported a survey of 3,530 coke ovens workers which found that for some categories of coke ovens workers, deaths from lung cancer were nine times the average, with a 7.5-fold risk of dying from kidney cancer. Further studies have suggested a higher than normal incidence of cancers of the larynx, nasal sinuses, pancreas and stomach, as well as leukaemia.
Does the report demand such a study be conducted as a matter of urgency? No, it merely suggests that the NSW government "encourage the implementation of studies" of cancer among steelworkers.
This contempt for the concerns of ordinary working people starts with the first words of the Health Unit report, which contain an outright lie.
They state that: "In July 1996 the Illawarra Public Health Unit was first alerted that a number of former students and a staff member at an Illawarra high school, in the Warrawong area, had been diagnosed with leukaemia in recent years."
In fact, as Nick Cristiano will testify after lunch, Melissa Cristiano first contacted the Health Unit months earlier, only to be ignored.
It was not until she and members of her family went to the media and the leukaemia cases became the subject of widespread concern and alarm that the Carr government and the Public Health Unit announced an inquiry. It was nothing but an exercise in damage control.
Now, 10 months later, the Unit has recommended certain further investigations for the same reason: to hose down the anger of the families and the working class.
Once again the report contains a revealing turn of phrase. It acknowledges that its lack of answers "may be unsatisfactory to the wider community".
It then makes three proposals in order to "address this scenario".
In other words, the motivation for the proposals is to placate workers and young people, not to address the issue of the rising death toll.
The first suggestion is a review of leukaemia and lymphoma cases until 1999. In the meantime, victims will continue to suffer.
Another proposal is a molecular genetics study using new technology to detect from victims' body tissue the toxins responsible for their leukaemias.
This may be based on a genuine scientific advance but it is being used as a diversion, to prevent conclusions being drawn about the whitewash performed on behalf of the Carr government and BHP.
A third proposition is a 12-month feasibility study into a more detailed case control epidemiological project. The clear assertion of the report, however, is that such an investigation will be found unwarranted given the supposed absence of benzene as a suspect.
The government and the Health Unit are simply hoping that in a year's time, the outrage felt by many workers and their families will have subsided sufficiently for the project to be quietly dropped.
I want to make a particular warning about another proposal -- a study of so-called population mixing, based on the theory that alien influxes introduce unknown viruses.
These viruses, never identified, are somehow meant to directly or indirectly lead to the development of leukaemias and cancers. Dr Westley-Wise first raised this hypothesis some months ago, even though no evidence exists of a virus epidemic in the Warrawong area in recent decades.
No such study is mentioned in the main report but the environmental assessment report by Irene Kreis states that one is already being prepared in collaboration with the Geosciences Department of the University of Wollongong.
This theory essentially seeks to blame newly arrived immigrants for bringing in viruses which produced the leukaemias. We are warning that the Health Unit may seize upon it as a means of letting itself and BHP off the hook.
Professor Knox's British study specifically answered this theory by showing the childhood leukaemia and cancer rates remain consistently higher in industrial areas over three decades regardless of population movements.
Finally, what does the Health Unit recommend in relation to environmental monitoring of benzene and other air toxins?
Workers News industrial editor Terry Cook will make a submission tomorrow dealing with those recommendations.
I will simply make the point that despite the deaths of seven young leukaemia victims and the many more not counted by the Health Unit, its report basically supports the continuation of the current regime, which failed to detect or prevent these tragedies.
The Health Unit proposes the adoption of an Australian standard for benzene in ambient air but who will monitor the standard? As is the case now, all monitoring of the toxins allowed by EPA pollution licences will continue to be performed by the companies themselves.
And the EPA's so-called Pollution Reduction Programs will continue to be set by negotiation with the companies, based on what they say they can afford, not the health of workers and residents.
That is why the report does not call for a single concrete measure to be taken by BHP to reduce its emissions, not even to shut down the Number 3 battery, originally condemned 15 years ago.
The reality is that BHP is now slashing its maintenance budget at Port Kembla by 30 percent, eliminating thousands more jobs, and driving up the rate of output at the coke ovens and everywhere else.
Having already announced the closure of Newcastle in the ruthless pursuit of profit, the company is squeezing every last ounce of production out of the ageing Port Kembla plant.
For its part, the EPA will continue to ensure that no environmental controls will interfere with the company's plans.
THE COMMUNITY REFERENCE GROUP
The Health Unit's coverup is entirely endorsed by a side report issued by the Unit's Community Reference Group.
This group was established to attempt to give some credibility to the Health Unit by drawing in some of the victims and their families. It was also given two places on the investigation steering committee.
Initially Melissa Cristiano was convinced to join that committee but she soon became disillusioned and stopped attending any meetings.
She was not the only one. The meetings soon shrank to a handful of people as health officials rejected all calls for independent investigations.
More people became disenchanted as the Health Unit repeatedly dismissed the flood of reports brought forward by workers and residents about the high incidences of cancers and related health problems.
However David Gilmour, the chairperson of IRATE, remained an active member of the Community Reference Group and represented it on the steering committee. He may have been a party to all the steering committee's discussions.
Having participated in one whitewash, the Community Reference Group is preparing for future health catastrophes.
It proposes a permanent government-funded "community-controlled" "interest group" to work with the government and the health authorities.
What is meant by the "community" is not defined but clearly it includes the business leaders. The proposed group would invite representatives of business, government agencies and the Wollongong Council to participate in its work.
The report states that if it were funded by the government, "further cooperation may be helpful to all concerned". In other words, the group's task would be to assist the government and the authorities. Its funding would depend on that.
To sum up my submission, the Health Unit report was not an investigation but a cover-up.
It conducted no independent studies of the toxic emissions at BHP, the copper smelter or any other industrial source over the past three decades.
It arrived at a result by backdating figures supplied by BHP to achieve the desired outcome.
It treated the complaints, concerns and fears of workers and residents with contempt.
The report was always designed to protect the vested interests of those who sat on its steering committee, including BHP and the various agencies implicated in the health crisis -- the EPA, WorkSafe and WorkCover.
Long before the report was handed down, the Carr Labor government had made a mockery of its claim to be an independent investigation by announcing the reopening of the copper smelter, one of the prime suspects in the mounting leukaemia and cancer cases.
Even as the Health Unit prepared to release its report, the Labor leaders reinforced their determination to protect the interests of the big companies by shutting down Helen Hamilton's court challenge to the smelter decision. In partnership with the Liberals, they passed special legislation to extinguish all rights of appeal.
The Labor leaders showed they would do anything to prevent the release of accurate information about the levels of noxious fumes to be emitted from the reopened smelter.
The Health Unit report remains silent on that entire process.
From start to finish, the methodology of the Health Unit has been to carefully avoid the slightest indication that BHP or any other corporate interest could be even partially responsible for the cancer crisis.
Threatening the profitability of any company was simply not an option as far the Health Unit and the Carr government were concerned.
The Workers News investigation has refused to accept this starting point. And we have refused to accept that the leukaemia cases are a mystery.
The truth can be established, but only by an inquiry that is not beholden to any vested interests, including those of the trade union leaders who have allowed BHP and other companies to get away with murder for decades.
The SEP and Workers News will continue our commitment to the ongoing work of the Workers Inquiry. Critical to its success will be the contribution and involvement of workers, as well as the efforts of conscientious health professionals and academics.
Our investigation is charting a course.
For the first time ever, an independent inquiry has been initiated, starting with the defence of the health and lives of the vast majority of people rather than the defence of private profit.
This is only a start. We must marshal the combined efforts, talents and expertise of ordinary working people, and dedicated doctors, nurses and scientists.
Only such a unified movement, one that will not pander to the profit concerns of big business, will lay bare the full extent of the health crisis and its links to industrial pollution.
And on that basis, millions of working people will be able to draw informed conclusions about the nature of the present economic order and how to go about overturning that order and completely reorganising society, including production, to meet their needs.