Approximately 3,500 Chinese-made train cars imported by Australia’s third largest iron ore exporter, Fortis Hill Metals Group (FMG), were found to contain asbestos materials, which is one of the largest issue since Australia introduced the asbestos import ban 15 years ago.
According to the Australian newspaper, these chrysotile or white asbestos were discovered in the railway vehicle suspension system used in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. However, the Australian Border Enforcement Agency (ABF) did not take any action against the Fortis Hill Metal Group, based in Perth.
These asbestos were discovered last year, and the Australian newspaper disclosed the matter publicly on Thursday.
In recent years, after Australia detected asbestos in building materials, children’s crayons, four-wheel electric vehicles, auto parts and other products imported from China, trade unions and commercial groups have called on the federal government to take urgent action to prevent Chinese asbestos from entering Australia.
Some of the most highly regarded cases are asbestos-contaminated products found in the ceiling of Perth Children’s Hospital in 2016, as well as asbestos found in the building materials of Building 1 in William Street, Brisbane. Both cases are related to the Chinese company Yuanda Group.
Since 2006, only three imported asbestos cases have been successfully sued, with a total fine of approximately $140,000.
According to the law, importers are responsible for ensuring that their materials do not contain asbestos, and that violating companies can be fined more than one million Australian dollars.
The Fortis Hill Group imported 3,500 cars between 2007 and 2014, but did not detect asbestos until last September.
The group has been ordered to gradually replace all asbestos-containing materials in train cars by next year. It is believed that its employees did not have access to these asbestos. Group president Elizabeth Gaines said that asbestos was found on the components of the wheel chassis of an iron ore mine car.
“At the time, we immediately notified Work Safe and took all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our personnel and actions during further investigations,” she said. “An expert participated in the component. Detect and conduct a risk assessment to ensure that the work process meets or exceeds the relevant operational specifications.”
“Independent monitoring confirms that our staff is not exposed to asbestos. The Fortis Hill Group has replaced all affected parts with a licensed asbestos removal service to meet the requirements of the Work Safety Administration,” said Gaines.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs said that the Western Australian Work Safety Administration reported the matter to the Australian Border Enforcement Agency last November.
“The Border Enforcement Agency can make a decision on whether to sue according to the federal criminal prosecution policy and whether there is sufficient evidence to prove that it is illegal, whether there is a reasonable prospect of successful conviction,” he said. “In this case, it has not been carried out.”
A spokeswoman for the WA Security Work Agency said that when the Fortis Hill Group used the cars in the Pilbara region, it was “almost impossible” to get in contact with asbestos.