Australian authorities recently reported that during a time period that spanned seven years, the country received 3500 rail cars from China, all containing asbestos parts.
According to a report in The Australian, this is one of the largest breaches of the national ban on asbestos imports since it was introduced 15 years ago in 2003.
The Australian Border Force reports that the toxic materials was first found in the suspension systems of rail carriages in the Pilbara region of Western Australian.
The friction parts contained chrysotile (white) asbestos, which is still mined in China. The discovery happened last year but the information was not made public until now.
The rail cars at the center of this current controversy were imported by iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group, which has been ordered to replace all asbestos-containing parts within the next year.
It is believed that the company’s employees have not been placed at risk and it does not appear that the company will be fined for their mistake.
A spokesperson for Fortescue released the following statement:
“At the time, WorkSafe was immediately advised and all necessary precautions (were) taken to ensure the safety of our people and operations as we carried out further investigations,” she said. “An expert was engaged to test the component and conduct a risk assessment to ensure work procedures met or exceeded the relevant codes of practice.
“Independent monitoring confirmed our people were not exposed to an asbestos risk. Fortescue has engaged licensed asbestos-removal services to replace all affected components in line with WorkSafe requirements.”
Australia has had previous issues with asbestos-containing products entering the country through exporters in China. Other products that contained asbestos have included children’s crayons, quad bikes, various building materials, and motor vehicle parts included brakes and clutches.
One of the most high-profile cases of tainted Chinese products entering Australia happened in 2016 when it was discovered that roofing panels placed on the Perth Children’s Hospital contained the toxic mineral.
Rail workers in the United States faced similar hazards in years past. Many friction parts in U.S. locomotives and other rail products once contained asbestos, so those who worked in the industry faced the potential of asbestos inhalation on a regular basis.
Those who repaired train cars and other equipment were the most at risk and many developed asbestos-related diseases because employers failed to protect them while on the job.