Bleeding noses and memory loss: firies want action on toxic dumps



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Firefighters are calling on the Andrews Government to enact emergency laws to imprison, fine and sue responsible operators who illegally stockpile and dump dangerous toxic materials.

The plea comes after two major chemical fires in the last eight months.

Branch secretary of the firefighters union Peter Marshall said toxic chemical fires have “already altered the life expectancy“ of a number of firefighters, in a letter to the Victorian government.

190405 Melbourne factory fire Campbellfield under control (AAP)
Firefighters have reported health issues after battling a major chemical fire in Campbellfield earlier this month and another blaze in West Footscray in 2018.

“We cannot stress strongly enough that emerging business models employed by criminal enterprises have the very real potential to reduce the life expectancy of our members,” Mr Marshall said.

Mr Marshall is calling for tougher penalties including imprisonment and increased fines to stop “unscrupulous persons” putting the community and firefighters at significant risk.

The union is pointing to a handful of successful prosecutions, usually against corporations rather than individuals, resulting in no more than “modest fines”.

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Firefighters have reported memory loss, rashes, lung problems, bleeding noses and balance issues that followed their work on the two large-scale industrial blazes.

190405 Melbourne factory fire Campbellfield under control (AAP)
190405 Melbourne factory fire Campbellfield under control (AAP)
"We don't know what kind of noxious chemicals are burning in these warehouses - we are quite literally walking into death traps because there is no placarding or warning to firefighters as opposed to legally sanctioned storage facilities,” Mr Marshall said.

"What is so frustrating is that this could be prevented. Illegal dumping laws exist in Victoria, but they are rarely enforced because they are either inadequate or do not make the individuals accountable in a meaningful way.”

A Coolaroo company was issued with a notice from the EPA today requiring it to cease accepting combustible recyclable waste at its site until stockpiles are brought to an acceptable level.

The company, Glass Recovery Services, operates a glass recycling operation and holds an EPA licence and was the site of two recent fires attended by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade on the 29 March and 12 April.

Thick smoke billows from the Campbellfield factory. (9news)
Resource Recovery Facilities Audit Taskforce Manager Danny Childs said the EPA action followed failure by the company to comply with previous notices about the risks its stockpiles posed in the event of a larger fire.

“A large volume of glass waste it has received at the site has been contaminated with other types of waste, such as mixed plastics and paper and has resulted in an increased fire risk.”

“EPA takes a zero-tolerance approach to non-compliance against the Waste Management Policy requirements and expects the recycling industry to take its compliance obligations seriously,” Mr Childs said.

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