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An investigative report on an Australian morning radio program discussed the presence of chrysotile asbestos in the artillery shells the country’s army uses for practice.
Tony Eastley, the host of AM on Australia Broadcasting Corporation Radio, began the show by introducing a report on how a “dummy” artillery shell broke open in an ammunition storage room and spilled asbestos around the confined area. Josh Bavas, the reporter on the story, revealed how the “blank” charges were filled with chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen linked to mesothelioma and other respiratory diseases.
Mr. Bavas reported that the Australian Defense Force imported the charges from the United States for use with their 105mm Howitzer artillery pieces. The charges contained bags filled with asbestos to simulate the weight of the explosives in “live” shells. Last October at the Puckapunyal Army Base, about eighty miles north of Melbourne, one of the bags tore open and released asbestos fibers into the air.
Mr. Bavas interviewed Mr. Lindsay Cranz, the director of the Occupational Health and Safety department for Australia’s Defense Force. Mr. Cranz said that the dummy charges had the same weight as the live charges and that they came as part of the training kit for the Howitzer. After the incident at Puckapunyal, he said that the service had pulled the asbestos bags from use. He also said that his department had conducted an internal investigation and asked for any officers or enlisted men exposed to the asbestos to step forward.
Mr. Bavas also spoke to Barry Robson, a spokesman for Australia’s Asbestos Disease Foundation. Mr. Robson said that any soldiers who were near either the torn bag or any exploded charges could have been exposed to asbestos. Also, since asbestos-related diseases also have long latency periods, the affected soldiers may not display symptoms for decades to come.
Mr. Robson said that the Defense force should be held accountable for any long-term effects the soldiers may encounter as a result of their exposure, regardless of how it occurred. He told the reporter that the Defense Force’s knowledge that the charges contained such dangerous material and continued to use them “borders on criminal”.
Kevin Reed, a Defense Force veteran who trained with the Howitzer pieces for over ten years, also participated in the report. He told Mr. Bavas that the troops would burn empty charge bags after their artillery exercises. The burning bags, which often contained traces of asbestos left over from the firing practice, would carry asbestos particles in the smoke, creating an increased health hazard.
The report was released in conjunction with the national asbestos summit in Sydney that weekend. The objectives of the summit were to create a National Asbestos Unit, which would coordinate educational and health care efforts around the country, and which would also rid the entire country of the dangerous mineral by 2030.
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