THOUSANDS of public servants could have been exposed to toxic chemicals at work, in a case that has drawn comparisons with the CFA Fiskville scandal.
The Australian Workers’ Union has called on the Victorian Government for a “full and fearless investigation” of the chemicals used by workers across state departments and local government.
The call came after the Victorian Government last week said it would provide free health screenings for all workers employed as sprayers in state departments and agencies before 1995.
The health checks were recommended in the Former Lands Department Chemical Inquiry into the experience of government workers in the Ballarat area from 1965 to 1995.
The inquiry focused on the use of chemicals 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), the two active ingredients of the controversial Agent Orange.
The Ballarat inquiry found “no risk of cancer for those sprayers exposed to 2,4-D” but said prior to 1981 it was “plausible that exposure to TCDD (a contaminant in 2,4,5-T) may cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or soft tissue sarcoma”.
AWU Victorian secretary Ben Davis welcomed the Government’s response to the inquiry — which included a review of current practices used in state departments and agencies — but said it was “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Mr Davis said a broader public inquiry was needed into what he described as a “massive social issue”.
“The State Government must now order a comprehensive examination of the whole range of chemicals used by public sector workers, in all parts of the state, over the years,” Mr Davis said.
“Workers have told us about illnesses ranging from cancers, to debilitating headaches, to persistent skin complaints and other lingering issues,” he said.
“The least people deserve are answers to the questions about what impacts exposure to these chemicals had on their families,” he said.
“I think this issue is as big as Fiskville,” he said, referring to the CFA training facility closed by the Government last year and now the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.
Mr Davis estimated thousands — many in rural areas — could be affected.
Environment Minister Lisa Neville would not comment on the AWU’s request, but said “no one outside the region was prevented from giving evidence at the (Ballarat) inquiry”.
The Government did not say how many workers would be eligible for health screenings.