Ausgrid up for grabs, but bidders must commit to safe removal of asbestos: ETU


Monday, 18 April, 2016

Ausgrid up for grabs, but bidders must commit to safe removal of asbestos: ETU

Around a thousand electrical panels containing asbestos have been installed at Ausgrid substations across Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast since 2007, and most of the asbestos has been left as is, according to the Electrical Trades Union (ETU).

The union said that while a small number of substations have been fully remediated, most simply had the asbestos sealed in place because the company wanted to avoid costly clean-ups that would require disruptions to electricity services.

The ETU is now calling for bidders interested in the publicly owned electricity distributor — which is up for lease as part of the NSW Government’s $30 billion poles-and-wires privatisation plans — to commit to the complete removal and remediation of the deadly substance, which can be found in switchgear units installed between 2007 and 2014 in more than 50 substations, including those housed in the Royal North Shore Hospital and The Star casino.

“The union is demanding that any purchaser of Ausgrid commit to not only safely remove and remediate this newly installed asbestos, but also to the complete removal of asbestos throughout the network,” said ETU NSW Secretary Steve Butler.

Ausgrid conducted tests on its own infrastructure and found white and brown asbestos to be present. The substance has been banned from use and importation in Australia since 2003 as it is known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

“We saw during the rollout of the National Broadband Network the potential risks for workers and the community that are posed by asbestos remaining in public infrastructure, and we want potential buyers to do what the NSW Government has failed to do — completely remove it from the Ausgrid network,” said Butler.

“We need to ensure that bidders have committed to the full remediation of the network — and factored those costs into their budget — before the NSW Government hands over control of the poles and wires.”

The two bidders seeking to buy a majority of the company include Chinese government-owned State Grid Corp and Cheung Kong Infrastructure, owned by Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-shing.

The ETU said not all of the locations in which asbestos was used are known, but estimates the total bill to safely remove it all could run to $2 billion.

The union is also concerned over its potential impact on workers’ health since many would not have been expecting to find freshly imported asbestos in new equipment, and as such would have been less likely to take the same safety precautions that would be used for older equipment.

Full list of substations where asbestos-containing switchboards were installed between 2007 and 2014:

Newcastle/Hunter:

Aberdeen, Adamstown, Brandy Hill, Broadmeadow, Charlestown, Croudace Bay, Jesmond, Kurri, Maitland, Mayfield West, Medowie, Morisset, Muswellbrook, Rathmines, Raymond Terrace, Rothbury, Scone, Tanilba Bay, Tomago and Tomaree.

Central Coast:

Avoca, Empire Bay, Lake Munmorah, Long Jetty, Berkeley Vale and Wamberal.

Sydney:

Bankstown, Balgowlah North, Berowra, Camperdown, Croydon, Engadine, Epping, Galston, Gwawley Bay, Hurstville North, Kingsford, Kogarah, Leichhardt, Lindfield, Macquarie Park, Mona Vale, Mortdale, North Sydney (Bradfield Park and North Pylon), Port Botany, Potts Hill, Pyrmont (Sydney Casino), Rose Bay, Sans Souci, St Leonards (Royal North Shore Hospital), Top Ryde, Turramurra and Waverley.

Images of the electrical switchgear equipment inside an Ausgrid substation, courtesy of ETU.

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