Three construction employees had elevated levels of lead in their blood, the result of lead dust particles found during renovations at Kingston’s Old Bus Depot (including the food court, workshop, and foreshore space) in February.
The Former Transport Depot was closed in March 2020 after the hailstorm damaged the building, and COVID-19 closed the markets. Renovations costing $6.5 million are underway to make the building safer and more accessible.
The Canberra Liberals called on the ACT Government to assure the community that no members of the public were at risk, and that the government was taking appropriate steps to safeguard the health of current and former workers at the site.
Peter Cain MLA, Shadow Minister for Jobs and Workplace Affairs, said the presence of hazardous and toxic materials at any site where people worked or visited was obviously concerning.
“This government has a track record of poor management of these substances in our community, especially in our government schools,” said Mr Cain.
“The government needs to be completely transparent with Canberrans when it comes to hazardous materials in all public spaces across the ACT.”
An ACT Government spokesperson said 28 workers had been tested, and their recorded blood levels were not notifiable to Worksafe ACT.
“The ACT Government takes the safety of workers seriously,” the spokesperson said. Work Health and Safety legislation and regulations outline measures to ensure workers are not exposed to hazardous materials. Workers processing lead must be offered voluntary testing.
Nor was the public at risk, the spokesperson said.
“The lead dust was only disturbed during the renovations when the Former Transport Depot was closed to the public, stallholders, and other visitors. There would have been no significant risk to the public prior to this.
“It is likely that the lead dust has been present with minimal disturbance at the Former Transport Depot for many years. When left undisturbed, and good personal hygiene is practised, the dust does not pose a significant risk to building users, including market operators and visitors.”
The government spokesperson said the Old Bus Depot Markets would reopen as soon as possible once the building remediation was complete; they would be the first community event to be held in the newly refurbished building.
The government expects the remediation will be completed in July, but that an exact date was not yet known. The extent of work required in each area depended on the test results returned after cleaning, the spokesperson said. The renovations were originally due to be completed in March.
The building will be tested again before it re-opens to ensure lead readings are within safe levels. Once the markets return, the building will be tested regularly for lead dust to ensure the safety of occupants.
The Former Bus Depot, like many other ACT facilities, was built before 1992, at a time when lead paint was commonly used in the building industry. Just like homes and businesses of the time, these facilities were painted with lead paint, the government spokesperson said.
Tara Cheyne, Minister for Business and Better Regulation, said the ACT Government was working with the Old Bus Depot Market operator and stallholders to reimburse stallholders whose property had been contaminated by lead dust if it could not be cleaned and restored safely.
If members of the community are concerned about lead exposure, they should speak to their doctor. More information is available on the ACT Health website.
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