Construction workers have downed tools and walked off the job at the Queens Wharf development in Brisbane due to an asbestos contamination concern.
The giant project, estimated to be worth $3.6 billion, was halted after an urgent safety alert was received regarding plaster sheeting that had been used on the site.
Building product manufacturer USG Boral advised customers yesterday that vermiculite from China to create fire-rated plasterboard was found to contain ‘very low levels of asbestos contamination’.
The product and its use at the site are being investigated, while initial reports suggest it may have been used in panelling in lunch rooms on the sites, utilised by hundreds of workers.
“These lunch rooms aren’t three chairs and a microwave; they are industrial strength mess halls,” said a source.
One worker who spoke to the Courier Mail said he was told that Multiplex was behind the decision to close the site and was investigating.
“All we were told was that it could possibly be in a product that the gyprockers use,” said the worker.
“I’m fairly sure this is just as a precaution, and hopefully, we’ll be back on site tomorrow.”
“It’s very rare that a builder would shut the site so quickly when it must cost them so much money, so full credit to them for looking after their workers’ safety.”
Boral explained that the presence of asbestos in the material was uncovered as part of routine testing at its Sydney facility.
“In the past, we have used vermiculite imported from China as an ingredient in our fire-rated plasterboard products and we have a rigorous testing regime in place to check for any potential contamination of the raw materials we use, including the Vermiculite,” Boral’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Tony Charnock, told customers.
“During some recent routine tests carried out by an accredited laboratory on a sample of vermiculite used at our Camellia site in Sydney, very low levels of asbestos contamination were detected.
“It seems likely that this contamination occurred at the source of mining the vermiculite, but in any event occurred prior to delivery at our sites.
“Samples of vermiculite from our Port Melbourne and Pinkenba facilities were also tested at the same time, but no traces of asbestos were found.
“As a result of this unexpected find, we have taken several immediate steps to ensure the ongoing safety of our products and to protect our staff and customers.”
The managing director explained that the company had stopped using the Chinese-sourced vermiculite following the incident and was sourcing new suppliers.
“Arrangements are being made for the safe removal of all unused Chinese-sourced vermiculite from our facilities at Camellia, Port Melbourne, and Pinkenba,” he said.
“Testing has commenced on our finished products made using vermiculite as an ingredient to check for any possible contamination. This will include testing on finished products manufactured at each of our sites, Camellia, Port Melbourne and Pinkenba.
“While those tests are being completed, stock will be quarantined. We believe our other products are NOT affected by this issue.”
Mr Charnock said any consumers who had purchased the fire-rated plasterboard products should quarantine it, ‘and refrain from installing, distributing or supplying them … until we provide you with a further update this week’.