An ongoing investigation by the Socialist Equality Party
Pollution link to cancer also found in Newcastle
Damning new evidence of the link between cancer and industrial pollution has been produced by further analysis of statewide NSW Cancer Council statistics obtained by the Workers Inquiry.
The results show extraordinary levels of leukaemia and cancer near the Newcastle steelworks. For both, the rates close to the steelworks, BHP's oldest and most run-down, are approximately double those near the company's Port Kembla plant.
The figures reveal a similar correlation as found in Wollongong between the cancer and leukaemia rates and radial distance from the steel plant and other heavy industry. In the Hunter region the leukaemia rate is more than eight times higher near the steelworks than it is at West Wallsend, 18 km away; and the cancer rate is 3.8 times higher.
The pattern of distribution, shown in the accompanying diagram and table, shows an inverse square relationship between cancer rates and distance from the steel plant, like that uncovered by the Workers Inquiry in Wollongong. Such a radially symmetrical curve is compelling evidence of a specific point source -- the steelworks. There is less than a 1 percent possibility that this pattern is produced by chance.
As the diagram and table show, there is a smaller leukaemia peak in the Boolaroo and Warners Bay postcodes, near Pasminco's Cockle Creek smelter. A comparable peak (not shown in the graphic) exists in Heddon Greta, Weston and Kurri Kurri, near an aluminium smelter.
The statistics were analysed by environmental scientist Chris Illert and come from the same set of postcode-by-postcode figures that were finally supplied to the Workers Inquiry from the NSW Central Cancer Registry after years of being withheld from researchers. Covering the period 1972-94, the data show a pattern that has existed for at least two decades.
In the case of Wollongong, the average rate of leukaemia at Berkeley, 4 km from Port Kembla, was 4 per 1,000 people over 22 years -- 10 times higher than at Minnamurra, 18 km from the smokestacks.
For the Hunter region, the leukaemia rate was twice as high near the steelworks -- at Carrington, approximately 2 km from BHP, it was 8.4, compared to 1 at West Wallsend.
Likewise, the cancer rate at Carrington was 185.2, whereas at West Wallsend it was 48.8. The corresponding figures in the Illawarra were about half -- 95.5 at Berkeley and 14.85 at Minnamurra.
Both Wollongong and Newcastle are sites of heavy industrial complexes, based on the steelworks, surrounded by working class suburbs. For decades, thousands of workers and their families have had little financial choice but to live and work in the fumes belching from these complexes.
Having extracted every possible ounce of profit out of its original Newcastle works, BHP has formally announced its closure, not only axeing a total of 3,000 steelworkers' jobs but also seeking to wash its hands of countless victims of its industrial pollution. Port Kembla is likely to suffer a similar fate. There, the company has eliminated thousands of jobs and is continuously driving up the rate of output while slashing maintenance spending by 30 percent.
The Newcastle figures reinforce the conclusion drawn by the Workers Inquiry commissioners that the Wollongong crisis is part of a wider industry-caused pattern of cancers and ill-health. Moreover, they demonstrate that this pattern is far from confined to the Illawarra. It is likely to exist in all working class-industrial areas.
Evidence presented to the Workers Inquiry showed that cancer rates are going up everywhere. The number of cancer cases diagnosed in NSW has more than doubled from 11,489 in 1972 to 24,922 in 1993. In 1991, cancer replaced coronary heart disease as the leading cause of death in Australia.
By 1994 cancer accounted for 27 percent of all deaths nationwide, compared to 16 percent in 1972.
Workers News will further investigate the Newcastle situation. As in Wollongong, it is certain that the industry-related cancer pattern has been deliberately covered up by BHP and other major companies, backed by successive Labor and Liberal governments and the trade union bureaucracy.
The Workers Inquiry established that the staggering number of leukaemia and lymphoma deaths among teenagers and young adults in the southern suburbs of Wollongong would have remained hidden from public view if not for the efforts of one of the young victims, Melissa Cristiano, whose struggle was taken up by other residents and workers through the Workers Inquiry itself.
The inquiry proved that for decades, governments, official agencies and the trade unions have worked together to protect the corporate profits of industrial giants such as BHP, regardless of the destruction of working class lives and health. The findings and the recommendations issued by the six commissioners are now being presented at a series of public meetings in major working class centres, including Newcastle.