The Greens say Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) should put its plans to expand its Kooragang Island terminal on hold until the causes of a possible cancer cluster are found.
A Newcastle University study released yesterday found workers at the site are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the average New South Wales resident.
It also found the employees were three times more likely than Carrington terminal PWCS workers to develop the disease.
The study compared details of 859 employees at Port Waratah Coal Services over a 23-year period, with cancer records for New South Wales and Australia.
63 workers were diagnosed with cancer, with the most common being melanoma, prostate and colon cancer.
Professor of Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology from Newcastle University, John Attia says the study did not pinpoint a cause for the high incidence of the disease, and further investigation is recommended.
“The study didn’t look at any soil samples or water samples or air samples so we can’t pinpoint what it is that might be causing this, but it’s something that’s different between Kooragang and Carrington,” he said.
“One of the recommendations was that an independent occupational hygienist engage to look specifically at the physical environment and work processes and see what might be causing it.”
Port Waratah Coal Services has put forward a $5 billion proposal to build a massive new coal terminal at Kooragang Island, but Greens MP John Kaye says the project should now be put on the backburner.
“In the absence of an airtight explanation for the elevated rates of cancer at Kooragang Island, it would be immoral to push ahead with T4 and expose yet more workers on that island to a higher risk of really bad health consequences,” he said.
“Planning for this terminal should be delayed for as long as it takes to find out what is causing an elevated rate of cancer on Kooragang Island, and how that can be avoided.”
The Company says it has been advised there is no established link between the occupational environment and the types of cancers common among employees.
PWCS CEO Hennie Du Plooy says the results are being explained to all employees.
“We’ve engaged specialist advice in this area and our advisers are actually helping us communicate this and interpret this for our employees,” he said.
“So that we can demonstrate that, while the report identifies an increased risk, there is – according to our advice – a low likelihood the risk and the cancers identified have a link to occupational exposure.”
The Maritime Union is calling for a government investigation into cancer rates at all workplaces on Kooragang Island.
Employees are worried the site’s history as an industrial waste area could be to blame for the higher than expected incidence of cancer among workers.
Glen Williams from the Newcastle branch of the Maritime Union says there needs to be more research covering the entire area.
“The results at Kooragang give us great concern as to what’s going on up there,” he said.
“If it’s something in the water on Kooragang, if it’s something in the air, those are questions we need answered.”