An ongoing investigation by the Socialist Equality Party
Testimony of Nick Cristiano
Nick Cristiano is the husband of Melissa Cristiano
The meeting where the families were given the Health Unit report was a joke. It was a waste of a day for me. I had to actually give up a day's work to sit in there, and be told about stuff I already knew.
I was surprised by what the Health Unit said. I did expect decent answers.
There is proof in the overseas reports that if you live within a certain radius of a steelworks, you can be affected. The Health Unit admitted that international studies showed a relationship but when you ask them about what's on our doorstep, they say it's not linked. That's very hard to believe.
They have a steelworks and a copper smelter next-door to a fertiliser plant, and next door to that, the whole area is built on slag and coal wash. Then you have the petrol tankers, right across from the coke ovens. BP and Shell all store their petrol there, so there is plenty of benzene.
What they said about benzene averages was a lie. How could they compare what was being pumped out years ago? The EPA representative told us that the steelworks and the coke ovens were working to full capacity during the monitoring. Then you hear George Edgar, the General Manager of BHP, admitting that number 3 battery wasn't working to full capacity during the monitoring process.
Terry O'Dea explained that he had rung the EPA about yellow and brown stuff being discharged into the air, even up until Friday, across the road from his place. The EPA had told him that it was steam. I am a plumber and I know what steam looks like and that definitely wasn't steam.
It's too hard to believe the Health Unit's results on the levels of benzene. They are putting figures on paper, but have they seen the real facts? I've lived in Fairfax Road, Warrawong, across the road from the hospital, for twenty-four years. I used to walk to and from school. I used to go to Port Beach, and I know what I was breathing in all that time.
I'm not surprised at all that BHP funded the Health Unit investigation. I think a cocktail of things is causing the leukaemias -- Southern Copper and BHP together.
The decision to re-open the smelter is wrong. You can already see what the smelter has done to the houses, the buildings and cars and to the people already living there.
The government is stupid to reopen it again. We shouldn't only be putting the Illawarra Health Area Service on trial; we should be putting the Carr government on trial. They are the murderers because they're the ones giving the industry the go ahead.
The local Labor MP Gerry Sullivan taught at Warrawong High. He taught me and Melissa. He should know what the situation is. That is, if he had any conscience, but he won't be sticking up for us. Once they get voted in and they look pretty in the office, that's all that counts.
At the start Melissa made two or three phone calls to the Health Unit and didn't get them returned. They gave her the run-around. After she told the media, that's when we got the phone calls from the Public Health Unit.
Melissa thought that it might be the pesticides at the school. Then she thought it could be the slag. But then she lost confidence in everything -- she didn't know what to believe or what to read.
She knew that this situation would occur. After the meetings, she knew that she wouldn't get anywhere in the Health Unit meetings. She thought that it was a waste of time.
She lost faith in the official investigation. We only went to one or two of the meetings. We would arrive and the first thing that would be discussed was all of the apologies from the MPs and the BHP representatives. They had a month in advance to be there, and all of a sudden they wouldn't show up.
She was very half-hearted on the Health Unit's steering committee -- she agreed to it, but not to be involved. She thought it was a waste of time.
People respected Melissa because she had the guts and the courage to get up there and talk. I was surprised at the impact that she had.
She was the instigator. I said I would back her up all the way through and that's what I'm doing. BHP and the government have got the money and the legal side, but it's my life and Melissa's life that I'm fighting for.
Once she found out about the others, she began to proceed full steam ahead. If she ever started anything, she would always finish it. At home if she started doing some craft, she wouldn't put it down, even if it was two o'clock in the morning, until she finished it. All I did was to support her.
I was very surprised how many came to the funeral. It showed how many people respected Melissa. She was never worried about herself -- which was part of the idea of kicking off the investigation -- thinking of others and of the future generations. People responded to her because she was a working class person like the rest of us.
The authorities weren't going to bring the issue up and let us know about it, so someone else had to do. Melissa was just the average person off the street. That's why she touched so many people, because she had the guts to get up there and talk and make a fool of the authorities.
My family took her leukaemia diagnosis pretty hard, because my father was also sick at the time. Exactly a month after Melissa was diagnosed we found out that my dad had cancer as well.
We need to get real answers -- to get to the source of where it's coming from. We need to stop it from happening. If BHP remains the way it is, what will that do to society? If BHP is the source, we have to find this out.
Initially I wasn't sure about the Workers Inquiry -- I thought it might have been just a propaganda thing to push the authorities. Then I noticed you were getting pretty serious. I thought it was good of you to push your weight around to try and get some answers.
Sometimes I thought you were too straight forward, but obviously it's worked, and you now have the facts and figures and the answers that you wanted. I give you all the credit.
You said from the start that you would not mix this inquiry in with the Health Unit inquiry because one inquiry was rubbish and one was for the truth.
As I said to the media on the day that the Health Unit's findings were released, the authorities didn't want the truth to come out because they wouldn't want to fork out the money for the compensation claims in the area. That's why I said we had to put our faith behind the Workers Inquiry, because it would establish the truth.
My father worked for 20 years in BHP -- including the coke ovens. He got run over by a train at BHP and lost his leg. They paid him out compensation until he got stomach cancer. My mother never smoked in her life and she's now got thyroid cancer. She's lived in Warrawong for nearly 29 years. The day my father found out about Melissa's illness, was the first day I had ever seen him cry. He knew that his cancer came from the industry.
I wanted to ask the question at the Health Unit meeting: how many people died in the area fifteen years ago when BHP was running flat chat? How could they estimate figures back until then? The Carr government should be put on a murder trial. Bob Carr knows what the copper smelter has done and will continue doing to the community -- why has he given it the go ahead? That in itself should be a mass murder case.