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Canberra Today 15°/19° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

FOI: High levels of lead dust found at closed popular markets

The outside face of the Old Bus Depot Markets. Photo: OBDM

THREE construction workers were recently found to have tested for elevated lead blood levels after coming into contact with high levels of lead dust particles while on the job, Freedom of Information documents have revealed.

Renovations on the site of the Old Bus Depot Markets in Canberra’s Inner South at Kingston were found to have disturbed the hazardous and toxic materials.

The high levels of dust particles were found across many areas of the building including the food court, workshop and foreshore space.

The Canberra Liberals have slammed Labor and Greens after exposing the FOI request over their poor record in protecting workers and dealing with WorkSafe matters.

But the ACT government has been quick to defend that the general public was not at risk.

The one-time transport depot was closed in March 2020 due to a hail storm and has yet to reopen since the pandemic.

“There would have been no significant risk to the public prior to this,” an ACT government spokesperson said.

But the government has also admitted, “it is likely that the lead dust has been present with minimal disturbance” for a number of years, adding it also did not pose a “significant risk” to people until after the renovations took place.

Minister for Business and Better Regulation Tara Cheyne said she is looking to compensate the affected at the popular Sunday attraction.

“The ACT government is working with the Old Bus Depot Market operator and stallholders on a reimbursement for stallholders whose property has been contaminated by lead dust if property cannot be cleaned and restored safely,” Ms Cheyne said.

The three workers of the construction company that “CityNews” has not named were the only affected persons from up to 28 employees exposed to the site, documents said.

The government claims the blood levels recorded were not notifiable to Worksafe ACT.

But the company did inform the relevant government authorities after finding out from a Canberra pathology that the “levels are above the threshold”.

Despite the concerning blood test results, the three workers were not required to stop work or not return to work.

The workers either breathed the lead in or lead dust entered the body through the mouth from dirty hands during eating or smoking. 

Two issues raised from the results were the health issues for the workers and the failure of the controls to minimise the risk of exposure for workers, according to the review from a quality assurance consultants.

“These levels are higher than background everyday exposure, but do not indicate exposure to high levels of lead,” the review said.

The review still pointed out that long-term exposure to even low levels of lead may well be associated with weakness in fingers, wrists and ankles, headaches, fatigue, small increases in blood pressure, anaemia (low iron in the blood) and damaged nerve and renal functions. 

But those with very high lead levels and diabetes linked to the kidney have a higher risk of adverse effects that may also cause severe brain damage, kidney function and even death. 

“The ACT government takes the safety of workers seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“Work Health and Safety legislation and regulations outline measures to ensure workers are not exposed to hazardous materials.

“Voluntary testing must be offered to workers undertaking lead process work.”

But Opposition spokesperson for Jobs and Workplace Affairs Peter Cain said the continued presence of hazardous and toxic materials on a work site is “obviously concerning”.

“We know that this government has a track record of poor management of these types of substances in our community, especially in our government schools,” Mr Cain said.

“It’s incumbent upon the government to assure the community that no members of the public are at risk and that appropriate steps are being taken to safeguard the health of current and former workers at the site.

“There has been little clarity from the government on what remediation work has been done to this point, what work still needs to be completed and the complexity of that work.

“The government needs to be completely transparent with Canberrans when it comes to hazardous materials in all public spaces across the ACT.”

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Andrew Mathieson

Andrew Mathieson

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