Tasmanian Cement Plant to Be Subject of Research Program

A Portland cement factory in a small town in Tasmania, Australia, will be the subject of the largest asbestos survey and research program in Australian history.
Dating back to the 19 th century, the town of Railton became prosperous when a nearby cement works entered full-scale production in 1928. In 2003, the plant was bought out by Cement Australia. In 2006, journalists discovered that the factory had been contaminated with asbestos and that workers from 1947 to 1986 were at risk, and an asbestos removal program began at the site. Researchers from three Australian universities will conduct the study, along with an occupational health and safety historian.

The study is a joint project of the Australian Workers Union and Cement Australia. Researchers will attempt to ascertain how many workers and community members have already developed asbestos-related conditions, and how many more people may yet develop diseases. The occupational health and safety historian, Dr. Berris Penrose, will study the site’s asbestos production history, attempting to determine where the asbestos came from, who worked with the deadly fibers, and where the plant’s products wound up. At least 16 cases of mesothelioma have already been diagnosed in former workers at the plant.

Although the study program may help asbestos exposure victims pursue compensation claims against the plant’s former owner, the Goliath Portland Cement Company, its main goal is to identify the workers and community members who are at risk to develop asbestos-related diseases. Current plant operation manager Steve Brass said that compensation claims were not the issue, stating “the issue is the well-being of our current and former employees.” Mr. Brass acknowledged that Cement Australia knew that the plant had an asbestos history when they purchased it in 2003.