An ongoing investigation by the Socialist Equality Party
BHP sinter plant workers not told of dioxin danger
Workers in the sinter plant at BHP's Port Kembla steelworks have never been informed by the company that the plant produces large amounts of dioxin, one of the most deadly man-made toxins.
Workers who have been employed in the sinter plant for more than 25 years have told Workers News that management has never reported the presence of the poison, let alone explained its harmful qualities or conducted health tests for sinter workers.
Data obtained by the environment group Greenpeace last year under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the BHP steelworks at Port Kembla and Newcastle are by far the largest sources of dioxin contamination in NSW -- making up 90 percent of all known atmospheric emissions.
BHP and the NSW Environment Protection Agency sought to block the release of the monitoring, conducted between 1993 and 1996. Legal action was taken because the EPA had not published the results. BHP initially appealed against the decision and then withdrew the appeal to avoid publicity.
The data shows that flue gases from the sinter plants at the two steelworks emit a combined total of about 13 times the World Health Organisation's "allowable daily dose" of dioxins for the entire Australian population.
Dioxin emissions recorded for the Newcastle sinter plant were 35 times over the widely accepted German standards for incinerators, and Port Kembla's was 28 times over the limit.
Dioxin compounds are so toxic that the US EPA has stated that there may be no safe level of exposure. Evidence from studies of occupational and accidental exposure, as well as animal tests indicates that dioxins can cause birth defects, abnormalities in childhood brain function and immune systems, cancers and heart disease. Other studies have linked it to leukaemias and lymphomas.
For example, abnormalities in brain function and the immune system have been reported among children who experienced elevated perinatal exposure to dioxins. A study of German chemical workers suggested that dioxin causes both cancer and ischaemic heart diseases.
A 1992 Australian study raised concerns that elevated levels
of leukaemia and lymphomas in inner Sydney, particularly in Sydney
City and Waverley may be connected to the Waterloo municipal
waste incinerator, whose emissions are 50 times higher than the