NEWCASTLE-based engineering giant Bradken is under fire for importing heavy-rail locomotives containing deadly asbestos from China.
The locos are quarantined at Rutherford, as Australian Customs and Border Protection officials investigate the breach of a 10-year ban on the import of products containing asbestos.
It is the first time Bradken has purchased locomotives from China and a company spokesman said the breach would not deter it from dealing with Chinese manufacturers in future.
Unions described the Chinese imports as a “disgrace” and said Bradken should be held accountable for not ensuring the safety of its supply chain.
The two locos were certified in China as asbestos-free and arrived in Australia in November 2012.
Bradken learnt about the asbestos in October.
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said asbestos-free certificates issued by Chinese manufacturers were “not worth the paper they were printed on”.
“The ban was put in place almost 10 years ago for good public policy reasons because one fibre can kill,” he said.
“There have only been two prosecutions since the ban was implemented and the message that sends is you can import with impunity.”
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman said Bradken could face a fine of up to $850,000 or three times the value of the locos, whichever is greatest.
“Importers are responsible for ensuring goods they import are free from asbestos and must declare this on import documentation,” he said, declining to comment further.
Bradken’s spokesman would not reveal the cost of the locos and said independent testing revealed the white asbestos was contained.
He said there was no risk ‘‘of any exposure to personnel’’.
‘‘Our specifications to the supplier was they be asbestos free,’’ he said. ‘‘The reality is they have not spent very much time on track at all.’’
The diesel locos were made by China Southern Rail and were undergoing registration and commissioning work in the Hunter.
Freight carrier SCT Logistics imported 10 of the same locos and asbestos was detected in October following complaints by Adelaide maintenance workers about white dust around the engines.
Tests revealed there were carcinogenic fibres in the cooling pipe, exhaust and brake insulation.
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency chief executive Peter Tighe said the situation highlighted “serious problems” with Australian compliance.
“As far as the Chinese are concerned there is no problem with asbestos,” Mr Tighe said.
“It is far too easy for these things to slip through the cracks when all you need to import something is a certificate from the manufacturer to say it’s asbestos free.”
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union NSW secretary Tim Ayres said if a local manufacturer used asbestos it would be shut down.
‘‘These companies are getting a cheap deal, by setting up a supply chain they can’t guarantee,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s pretty simple, trains made in Australia don’t contain asbestos and they keep workers in jobs.”
Bradken’s spokesman said the company acted immediately to quarantine the locos and was co-operating with investigators.
He said the asbestos would be removed and the locos put into service with an Australian operator.
A spokesman for Qube Logistics confirmed it ordered six of the same locos, but said it would not accept them with asbestos.
‘‘We have our inspectors working with the manufacturers on site to ensure that no asbestos is used,’’ he said.
This is not the first time China has broken the Australian ban on asbestos.
In 2012 more than 25,000 Chinese-made Great Wall, Chery and Geely cars were recalled after asbestos was discovered in engine gaskets and brakes.