Asbestos rally calls for Royal Commission into Roe 8

Asbestos rally outside the Western Australian Department of Health on February 10

The Community of Upset General Householders (COUGH) organised a rally outside the Western Australian Department of Health on February 10 to protest the clearing of bushland for the Roe 8 freeway despite clear evidence of large quantities of dumped asbestos littering the site.

Local residents and activists have documented asbestos remaining on site after Main Roads-commissioned clean ups. They are concerned that the movement of machinery and mulching of cleared vegetation with pieces of asbestos has exposed residents to an unacceptable risk. 

The destruction of part of the Beeliar Wetlands for the controversial Roe 8 Freeway has already generated wide-spread opposition from the local community, Nyoongar custodians and environmental and sustainable transport activists.

The rally was attended by members of the Plumbing Trades Employees Union, which has long campaigned for safe practices around asbestos, and by the Mayor of Cockburn Logan Howlett.

Howlett expressed concern at the state government’s disregard for the City of Cockburn’s ban on high-risk earthworks until March 31, during Perth’s dry, windy season. He said the “state government clearing of asbestos-riddled bushland near Coolbellup is at very high risk of causing unreasonable and potentially dangerous dust emissions for nearby residents”.

Maria Cadzow from COUGH explained that of the 42 samples of dumped fencing and building material residents took from the area, 80% tested positive for asbestos.

“We have been concerned that the huge dust plumes over our suburb contain deadly asbestos fibres,” she said. “With equipment clearing the site in dry and windy weather, airborne fibres are putting everybody at risk of exposure. I’m particularly concerned about children using the nearby playground and students attending local schools. One small fibre inhaled into the lungs can cause lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma.”

Former Unions WA representative on the Work Safe Commission, Bob Bryant, said that deadly blue and brown asbestos had been found in the samples. “National authorities have set the exposure standards for blue and brown asbestos at 0.1 fibres per millilitre of air breathed, with the average person taking in half a litre of air with each breath,” he said.

“Experts estimate the death toll from asbestos exposure will grow to 18,000 per year in 2020 and 60,000 by 2030. It is utterly reckless for the government to expose any more people to this lethal substance, classified as a Class One Carcinogen by the World Health Organisation.”

The rally was also addressed by Sam Wainwright, Fremantle Councillor, activist in the Fremantle Road to Rail campaign and Socialist Alliance candidate for the South Metropolitan Region in the state election. Wainwright declared that the government had pushed through Roe 8 in the face of broad community opposition and was now exposing workers and residents to unacceptable health risks.

"The whole project has been characterised by secrecy and the disregard for policy, procedure and good governance. Government departments and the police have been leant on to selectively enforce the law and bend the rules to get the clearing done at a break-neck pace, in the service of a pre-election stunt."

Wainwright received a roar of approval when he called for an incoming Labor government to establish an inquiry into Roe 8 with powers to recommend prosecution. He urged everyone to attend a rally of all groups and individuals opposed to Roe 8 in Forrest Chase on February 26.

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