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Health fears for tunnel project

03 Sep 2019

Health fears for tunnel project Image

By Meg Hill

The West Gate Tunnel Project is embroiled in a new controversy over unearthed toxic chemicals in the soil around Docklands.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) recently launched a campaign against joint venture partners John Holland and CPB that partly alleged PFAS and asbestos had been unearthed and unsafely handled. The state government confirmed that both PFAS and asbestos were identified on site.

The union claims that PFAS-infested soil was dug up and left for months next to Footscray Rd, dangerously close to passing cyclists and pedestrians. Further, it claims that workers were not provided protective gear to handle the material.

The CFMEU set up a website to outline its claims and said that the work was located in some of Melbourne’s most industrialised areas.

“We believe workers are not being allowed to use white safety suits when they handle this soil because the joint venture behind the project, John Holland-CPB, doesn’t want to upset the public,” a spokesperson said.

PFAS is known to be in soil in the area due to a huge industrial fire at Coode Island in West Melbourne in 1991. The chemicals were used to put the fire out.

The soil is no longer located by Footscray Rd. The CFMEU said it believed it was “simply moved to other parts of the project”.

Asbestos has also been discovered: “anyone who knows the history of the area should know that the soil will contain asbestos,” the CFMEU’s website said.

A spokesperson from the state government told Docklands News “contaminated soil is common on urban construction projects, especially in former industrial areas – that’s why there are strict processes in place to protect workers and the environment”.

“The project is working with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Worksafe to ensure contaminated soil is managed and removed safely, and soil testing is being carried out,” the spokesperson said.

John Holland did not respond to Docklands News for comment.

In 2017, when the project was assessed through an environment effects statement (EES) process, the City of Melbourne registered opposition to the project and specifically scepticism about its environmental impact.

Council transport portfolio chair Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley said the council “had a number of concerns about the project”.

He said council’s primary concern, and where it had most room to act, was around the “impact of building a road that would have two exits into the city” at Dynon Rd and Wurundjeri Way.

“You create a whole bunch of traffic that would be problematic north of the city and for the communities in those places,” he said.

“The Wurundjeri Way exit creates an even busier road that separates Docklands out from the city. There’s already a significant barrier between the two communities, and this will create a bigger one.”

“We did prosecute the case very hard on behalf of Docklands, and that this would not be good for the community, but we lost,” he said.

Cr Frances Gilley said the council were now working with the state government to find the best ways to mitigate the negative traffic impacts of the project.

 

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