Featured this week
Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) is an organic compound with the formula CH3C6H3(NCO)2. Two of the six possible isomers are commercially important: 2,4-TDI (CAS: 584-84-9) and 2,6-TDI (CAS: 91-08-7). 2,4-TDI is produced in the pure state, but TDI is often marketed as 80/20 and 65/35 mixtures of the 2,4 and 2,6 isomers respectively.  TDI exist at room temperature as a clear, colourless to pale-yellow liquid with a pungent odour. It decompose in water, but are very soluble in acetone and benzene, and are miscible with ether, diglycol monomethyl ether, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, kerosene, and olive oil. They are combustible when exposed to heat or flame and darken when exposed to sunlight (IARC 1999, HSDB 2009). 
Long before Melbourne’s northern suburbs were choked with acrid smoke from a mammoth factory fire earlier this month, workers inside were finishing their shifts covered in toxic sludge and struggling to breathe. It’s now known the factory was home to a vast illegal chemical waste dump — one internal EPA documents allege was linked to a criminal network responsible for more than a dozen similar illicit waste dumps around Melbourne. But multiple employees at the Campbellfield company describe a warehouse in the lead-up to the fire where chemical drums were not correctly stored and where workers wearing inadequate safety equipment were frequently covered in chemicals that caused physical and respiratory problems. “I had burns all over my body due to handling some chemicals. They did not tell me what chemicals they were,” said one worker, Muththukirishnan Karththikeyan. “Sometimes, it burns. If I tell them that I got burns from the chemicals, they would say ‘that’s how it is. It’ll just be like that for a short period of time,’ and then they would just apply a cream.” Employees told the ABC that the company — Bradbury Industrial Services — were able to get away with it, as managers were forewarned days ahead of EPA inspections and would order workers to hide chemicals to deceive inspectors. “They would tell us that EPA is coming a day or two prior to EPA coming. They took away all the things from there to another store. They transferred using a truck,” said another worker, who did not want to be named. Employees also told the ABC they would only be given appropriate safety clothing during inspections by the EPA, but would otherwise have to supply their own basic cotton or polyester uniforms. “If EPA comes, they would make the company seem safe, only that day,” Mr Karththikeyan said. “If EPA is coming, on that particular day, all safety goggles must be worn, and a mask must be worn. Protective outfit would also be provided. Everything has to be worn only on the day EPA comes.” Bradbury eventually had its license suspended for storing three times the amount of waste it was entitled to and was being investigated in the days prior to the massive fire on April 5. The fire shut down nearby schools in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and families were urged to stay indoors, while there were reports of chemical drums being sent flying dozens of metres into the air as a result of the explosion. In a statement, EPA chief executive Cathy Wilkinson acknowledged the regulator did flag inspections in advance, but in the wake of the two warehouse fires, it was increasing its number of unannounced inspections. “EPA conducts a combination of announced and unannounced inspections with an increased focus on unannounced inspections,” Dr Wilkinson said. “EPA is investing $5.5 million to switch to a fully GPS electronic waste tracking system to better record the production, movement and receipt of prescribed industrial waste which will provide improved quality data, helping us to detect potential risks and intervene earlier. “With the Bradbury situation under multiple investigations, EPA is limited about what can be discussed.” Many of the workers at the Campbellfield premises are Sri Lankan Tamils and speak limited English. One worker — Vignesh Varatharaj — was badly injured and had his face burned on the day of the fire after he says a chemical barrel exploded next to him. A crowdfunding page has so far raised over $24,000 to help with his medical costs. A photograph supplied to the ABC appears to show a separate worker’s torso covered in blisters, which his colleagues said was a result of him being exposed to chemicals while working prior to the factory fire. “All the chemicals caused blisters all over his body. They didn’t take him to the hospital. He went on his own,” Mr Karththikeyan said. “I think they told him at the hospital that the chemical was the problem, which caused an allergic reaction and hence this resulted. When he told this to the manager lady, the boss told him ‘it was not caused by the chemicals. Your body has allergy.'” Employees said they were too afraid to complain about the conditions at the warehouse because they risked losing their jobs. “You can’t complain like that there. You can’t say that to them. If you tell them, they would say that they would fire you from work. They would scare us by saying that they would fire us from work if we talk too much,” said Mr Karththikeyan. He provided the ABC with photographs of him and a colleague during a shift after having their skin and clothing caked in toxic sludge. He said if workers complained about having difficulty breathing while being exposed to chemicals, they were told to simply take chemical drums outside and continue working.
Criminal links swirl around factory’s owners
Last year, Bradbury was forced to back-pay a number of workers who were found to have been underpaid. It is understood that the former manager of Bradbury, Mark Anderson, was convicted in 2007 in Victoria of stealing more than $1.3 million from a New South Wales car dealership of which he was the managing director. It appears that he was known by another name when he was prosecuted. The EPA documents obtained by the ABC suggest that Mr Anderson also has links to greyhound trainers in NSW who were banned after their dogs tested positive for illicit substances. The documents also suggest that some clients of Bradbury, who paid the company to remove and dispose of chemicals, may have known Bradbury was incorrectly storing the products. The documents also list a number of clients, which include medical laboratories and some of Australia’s biggest paint manufacturers. A number of industry sources have told the ABC that Bradbury was undercutting other companies by offering dramatically lower prices to dispose of chemicals. They said other players in the industry wondered how Bradbury could have lawfully disposed of the quantities of chemicals the company was taking in. One man allegedly linked by the EPA to Bradbury, Graham Leslie White, was recently jailed for illegally possessing weapons, including a loaded machine gun. It is also suspected that White was dumping toxic and flammable solvents at a property near Kaniva, in the west of Victoria. Representatives from Bradbury did not respond to the ABC’s attempts to seek comment.
A young Gold Coast stonemason who became the face of the silicosis crisis in the industry has died. Anthony White passed away in the early hours of Saturday morning, his younger brother Shane told nine.com.au. He was just 36 years old. Mr White is believed to be the first stonemason to die of the irreversible lung disease since warnings over the potential scale of the health epidemic were raised last year. Doctors fear the disease could be the “next asbestos” after identifying a sudden spike in the number of stonemasons diagnosed with the condition. Silicosis is caused by long-term exposure to silica dust, which is created when artificial or engineered stone – popular in kitchen bench tops and bathroom vanities – is cut. After working in the industry for more than 10 years, Mr White was diagnosed with silicosis in November 2017 after developing a chest infection that would not clear up. With his health failing and facing the need for a double lung transplant, he spoke out about the lack of regulation in the industry and urged other tradies to get tested. Although he had been ill a for long time, Shane White said his brother’s death still came as a shock to his family as his health had seemed to be improving recently. “He said he was starting to feel better. He was saying I feel like everything is starting to go well,” he said. Just last week, doctors had judged Mr White’s health stable enough to put him on the waiting list for a lung transplant. “Everything was starting to go on the up for him, so it was quite sudden in that way,” the grieving brother said. Despite the tragedy, he said he was thankful that his brother had not died in a hospital bed. “He was enjoying himself. He was down at the pub. He wasn’t drinking or anything like that. He was just playing the pokies,” he said. Concerned bar staff found Mr White unconscious in the rest room and attempted CPR before calling an ambulance. Although the immediate cause of his death is still unknown, it appears likely that Mr White’s oxygen levels were too low, causing him to lose consciousness. Mr White’s death came at an already difficult time for the family. Just last week Shane, who is also a stonemason, was also diagnosed with silicosis. The brothers worked alongside each other at the same small stone cutting company for the best part of a decade. “When I got my diagnosis, I told Ant straight away. Me and my brother always confided in each other. He was always there for me and I was always there for him,” he said. Doctors have told him his silicosis is less severe than his brother’s. However, it has still meant that he has needed to quit his job and will never work in the industry again. Shane said his brother was quick to find the silver lining. “He told me at least now you are out of the industry. I think he was relieved about that,” he said. In Queensland, 98 stonemasons have so far been diagnosed with silicosis, with 15 of those cases identified as terminal, WorkCover told nine.com.au. The number is expected to increase substantially with a further 800 Queensland workers still waiting on health screenings to be tested for the lung disease. WorkSafe Victoria said it received 29 claims related to silicosis last year, 23 of which were lodged by wall and floor tilers and stonemasons. In NSW last year there were three cases. Silicosis can take up to 15 years to develop. During the same time frame the popularity of engineered stone benchtops has exploded in Australia. The demand for engineered stone, rose so sharply over the years that the White brothers would often work 60-70-hour weeks to keep up with orders, exposing them to even more of the deadly silica dust. Health and safety regulations in the industry were lax, Shane White said. “Everyone was talking about how great it was. It’s a cheap product, easy to handle, and they could make more money off it in the long run. But why wasn’t there a lot more thought put into the hazards of it?,” he said. “In the whole time I was in the industry there was only a handful of companies that I know of that you would get fired from for not wearing your mask. Any other ones it would be a slap on the wrist and put your mask on.” The Queensland government has now banned the dry cutting of engineered stone and there are calls for the rest of the states to follow suit. In October last year, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) said it would consider starting up a national lung dust disease register for workers. A quiet and unassuming man, Shane said his brother was never comfortable in the media spotlight, but was determined to speak out. “As soon as my brother exposed it, it all hit the fan. He has saved lives,” he said. Shane said his brother wanted those who failed to regulate the industry or warn of the dangers of silica dust to be held responsible, something that was yet to happen. “Where were the regulations. Someone had to know about how bad this product was previously in Australia. Someone has got to stand up and take responsibility,” he said. “How can they keep getting away with this? It baffled us which is why he spoke out about it.”