TasNetworks to pay compensation over use of cancer-linked herbicide
June 6 2020
A man in his 60s and the family of another who died in the 1980s will receive compensation over historical exposure to a herbicide contaminant while they were employees of Tasmania’s Hydro Electric Commission (HEC).
The two men worked for the HEC, now TasNetworks, on vegetation teams using the herbicide 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) in the 1970s and 80s.
The dioxin TCDD, which is found in some batches of 2,4,5-T, has been linked to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft-cell sarcoma, TasNetworks said in a statement.
TasNetworks said the man aged in his 60s was a current employee, while the other man had already left the HEC before his death.
Both men had contracted one of the linked illnesses, the statement said.
“We deeply regret that a current and former employee contracted a cancer linked to this herbicide,” TasNetworks CEO Lance Balcombe said.
“Our current team member affected will be compensated, and TasNetworks will take a strong, supportive role in his ongoing treatment,” he said, adding the employee would keep working at the company
The State Government last year confirmed WorkSafe Tasmania was working with TasNetworks to examine the claims of multiple former Hydro workers who said chemical exposure had left them with chronic illnesses.
TasNetworks on Friday said it had completed a “comprehensive search and screening process over 18 month, supported by independent toxicology and medical advice”.
Mr Balcombe said that of 400 past and present employees contacted, 70 had chosen to be tested and that all but the one current employee was clear of the three conditions.
“We’re confident we’ve reached the vast majority of people who could’ve been affected,” he said.
TasNetworks said compensation would be determined by a legal framework and would remain confidential.
Former boss told employees ‘you can drink it’
David Vince was one of hundreds of government workers who used the herbicide while working for Hydro Electric Commission’s vegetation teams — without wearing any protective gear.
“None whatsoever,” he said. “We just used to go out, mix it down at the depot, and what run on the ground went down the drains.
“We were breathing it in eight hours a day plus we were taking our clothes home and washing them in our machines … it was with us 24/7 really.”
He said workers raised concerns with management but they were laughed off.
“One of the bosses, he said: ‘No, there’s nothing wrong with that, you can drink it!’
“One said to us: ‘Oh well, if you don’t like it you haven’t got a job’.”
Mr Vince said he believed his kidney problems were linked to using the herbicide.
“What I’d like to have seen is medical bills paid,” he said.
“I go to the specialist every couple of months … if they covered medical expenses, that would be good.”
In a statement, TasNetworks said: “[We] recognises that some people involved in the screening process are suffering from other medical conditions not linked to historical TCDD exposure.
“These are still our people, valued employees past and present. We intend to keep in contact, and explore other options for supporting those people into the future.
“The options we’re considering include funded health checks every two years, a 1300 phone number to a dedicated support officer, and making pro-active contact about any fresh medical or scientific information on TCDD and associated illnesses.”
Former hydro workers in Tasmania to launch compensation claims over chemical exposure
May 17 2020
At least 19 former hydro workers in Tasmania are seeking compensation, saying they were exposed to dangerous chemicals which has left them with chronic health conditions.
The workers were all employed by the Hydro Electric Commission (HEC), known today as TasNetworks.
The chemicals were sprayed by workers in groups of three or four to cut undergrowth and trees underneath transmission lines.
The spraying occurred primarily between the 1950s and the 1970s, but in some cases up until the 1990s.
The State Government has confirmed WorkSafe Tasmania was working with TasNetworks to examine the claims.
Geoff Pratt, who lives in Latrobe on Tasmania’s north-west coast, is one of the workers affected.
He suffers from severe asthma, which he believes is linked to chemical exposure during work at the Hydro in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
“I was a young, fit healthy man, played footy, but my life has been shattered,” he said.
Dave Vince, another former worker who believes chemical exposure has led to his ill health, said his kidneys now work at 38 per cent.
“I remember just being covered in the chemical spray after working with the Hydro in the 1960s,” Mr Vince said.
“The worst part was you weren’t given any protective equipment and the chemicals would just flow down your back after spilling over the lip of the container.”
He and others want an apology.
“A lot of them have lost their husbands or partner a lot earlier than they probably should have done,” he said.
Graham Smith sprayed the chemicals from the start of the 1960s until 1974.
“It was hard, heavy work,” he said.
“We would work at least eight hours a day and would be just covered in the spray. It would make you feel dizzy.
“You would just be covered in the stuff, it would be flowing down your back.”
Mr Smith, Mr Vince and Mr Pratt are all taking TasNetworks to court over their exposure to the chemicals and have engaged a lawyer.
TasNetworks confirmed it was in discussions with 12 employees and seven former HEC workers about the chemical exposure.
But the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) of Australia said more than 40 former workers could be affected.
The union confirmed some of the former workers would be meeting TasNetworks toxicologist next week for tests.