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Union calls for asbestos tests on MCA

Author: Lauren Farrow Source: AAP
Wednesday 28th December 2011

Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art must be thoroughly tested for asbestos before workers return to continue renovations, a union says.

But the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) fears it may be too late for the 400 builders already potentially exposed to the carcinogenic fibre.

Asbestos has been discovered in the mortar of the sandstone building at Sydney Harbour during its $53 million makeover.

"There was asbestos fibro cement right across the eastern side of this site," the union's NSW secretary, Brian Parker, told reporters on Wednesday.

The union claims the workers could have been exposed to deadly airborne fibres after hacking into the building and says they were informed of the risk only in letters sent just before Christmas.

Mr Parker says there have been three asbestos scares at the site, with the latest happening on December 2.

He is calling for a comprehensive report on the building, including sampling and laboratory testing, before work resumes next week after the Christmas break.

"If the company continue to rip down walls, take windows out, take pipes out and take down asbestos fibro cement ... then the fact is it is going to continue to expose people."

Construction company Watpac's managing director, Greg Kempton, said the company was aware of a "small amount of asbestos" in the museum before renovations began in August 2010 and drew up work plans accordingly.

"When additional asbestos was discovered, we acted immediately by isolating the area and further engaging independent specialists to review the site and develop an approved work plan," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

Ric Wang from Watpac Construction told ABC Radio on Wednesday the company was staggered that more asbestos had appeared in the building.

"I'm flabbergasted that ... reports that indicate the area is clear and the building is clear can be wrong."

WorkCover acting chief executive John Watson told Fairfax Radio that allegations asbestos fibres were drifting around weren't "necessarily founded in fact" and that the union's claims were alarmist.

However, he told the ABC that it didn't come as a surprise that asbestos was present in the museum, given the age of the building.

Barry Robson, from the Asbestos Diseases Foundation, said comprehensive tests should be compulsory before any construction.

"We have been trying to get governments for many, many decades to make it compulsory," Mr Robson told reporters.

Workers on the site may not know for decades whether they have been exposed, he said.

"It's 10, 20, 40 years from now will determine whether you are exposed or not.

"It only takes one fibre of asbestos lodged in your lungs to sit there for decades and it causes mesothelioma, asbestosis," Mr Robson said.

Construction of the former Maritime Services Board building was completed in 1952, when asbestos was a common building material.

It officially opened as the MCA in 1991.



Tags: Asbestos
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