A key construction industry union has demanded industry-wide removal of asbestos from underground electricity substations in New South Wales amid the release of internal Ausgrid documents showing 49 cases of asbestos in 22 years and fears that there is still dangerous material in underground substations throughout the Sydney CBD.
The call comes as officials from the New South Wales branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and Unions NSW are set to meet on Thursday with chief operating officers of energy providers Endeavour Energy, Ausgrid and Essential Energy as well as state Energy Minister Chris Hartcher to present their case for an industry-wide audit of substations and grids.
During the meeting, the ETU will outline concerns about exposure and asbestos removal, staff training and safety precautions.
ETU NSW Secretary Steve Butler says despite the fact there is still friable – or easily crumbled – asbestos at underground electricity substations in Sydney’s CBD, fewer than half of the 13,000 substations in the Ausgrid area have been audited.
“This industry is riddled with asbestos. It is everywhere,” Butler told reporters. “You’ll find it in transformers. You’ll find it lagging around pipes, in fire doors, meter boards in people’s homes. You’ll find it all over the place from one end of the industry to another.”
“It’s got to come out, otherwise … more people will be dying,” he says.
The latest calls also follow the release of internal Ausgrid documents by the union on Tuesday which showed about 49 cases of asbestos-related illness at the firm over the past 22 years.
Ausgrid has hit back in response to union claims that it had suspended asbestos removal programs, saying that it is undertaking an ongoing 10-year program and that it had already completed its audit of 50 substations in Sydney’s CBD.
Hartcher says asbestos management plans are required for all state-owned businesses, and that Thursday’s meeting was about making sure that all parties were working together on the issue.
“The government is open to suggestions from all parties,” he says. “This is about making sure that where necessary, action is being taken.”
The latest claims follow alarm that as many as two million meter boxes throughout New South Wales could contain asbestos.