Asbestos World Watch for January 29th, 2009

In SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA, the validity of legislation to give federal authorities access to company documents for paying out asbestos compensation is being challenged by James Hardie.
The legislation allows the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to look at documents normally protected by legal privilege, according to the ASIC’s barrister, Tony Bannon. The documents in question were given to the court following a subpoena filed by Bannon to the law firm Atanaskovic Hartnell. These were used in response to declarations made by three non-executive directors who in 2004 told other directors that they had participated in a 2001 board ruling at the heart of the civil case. The case brought against ten former executives and directors of James Hardie surrounded their assurance to the public of the formation of an asbestos trust fund. Three non-executive directors were cross-examined and claimed that they did participate in James Hardie’s board ruling to approve a media release to the public about the asbestos trust fund. Now the issue is whether the media release was approved by the board.

One of the three, Mr. Gillfillan gave evidence about an unsigned 2005 letter from the three saying “on reflection, we currently have no positive recollection of the [approval of the release] as having actually occurred.” Bannon issued a subpoena for the documents referred to by Gillfillan, which was granted. The legislation allowing this was passed in 2004 and is being challenged by James Hardie. Following talks in 2004 and 2005 James Hardie did consent to meeting a $1.5 billion shortfall in its asbestos trust fund. In ISLE OF MAN, UK according to government officials, workers at the sea terminal at Douglas were not exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos. Testing was conducted on behalf of the Department of Transport at the request of the Unite Union. The building had asbestos sprayed to coat it at its construction. This was removed in the 1980s, and more was taken off in 2006. Air quality testing showed that there was no danger from asbestos in the area. In ILLAWARA, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA, a statewide audit revealed that two of the newest schools are among the 70 with asbestos in them. The schools in question, Flinders Public School and Dapto Public School, were constructed in 2003 and 2004. It was discovered that they contained fibro-cement sheeting in their stairwells and eaves. The Director-General of Education Michael Coutts-Trotter assured the public that the schools are “perfectly safe.” He told a radio station that so long as the asbestos is locked in cement, it cannot become airborne and cause health problems. The audit was conducted to create a database of where asbestos was located to prevent hazards should breaking of cement containing asbestos through repair work be needed. Only 109 of the 2375 schools in the state were found to have no asbestos in them.