Australia

Toxic chemical linked to veteran’s Parkinson’s now posing danger to some suburbs

Related Story: EPA considers banning the use of groundwater in several Adelaide suburbsRelated Story: Elevated levels of TCE detected at five Beverley homes: EPA

Keith Bailey spent 36 years in the Australian Navy and rose to the rank of commander, but his service to the country came at great personal cost.

The Navy has conceded it left him with Parkinson's disease as a result of exposure to the industrial solvent trichloroethylene, or TCE.

"When I joined the Navy in '67 I didn't have Parkinson's, and when I left in 2003 I did have Parkinson's," Mr Bailey said.

"So whatever it was that caused Parkinson's happened on their watch."

Keith Bailey wears a Navy shirt and cap.

In 2016 the Department of Veterans' Affairs formally recognised exposure to TCE as a cause of Parkinson's.

Mr Bailey believed he was the first Australian veteran to have such a claim approved.

"If you had 2,000 hours' exposure to trichloroethylene, there was a reasonable hypothesis that your Parkinson's was caused by trichloroethylene," he said.

Mr Bailey said TCE was in an ingredient in a metal cleaner called Turco Solv, which he used on ships to clean motor parts.

"The workshop was down a few decks, so it was enclosed," he said.

"When you stripped a motor you got it all over your overalls. You'd be working 10- to 12-hour days.

"When you finished your day you had the grease all over you. You'd wash yourself down in Turco Solv, so you'd use it to get the grease off your body as well."

List of contaminated sites in NSW and SA

An aerial shot of Clovelly Park showing empty blocks of land next to houses

TCE was not just used in the Navy.

Peter Dolan from the South Australian Environment Protection Authority said that decades ago its use was widespread in car making and metal working across Australia.

"We think hundreds to possibly thousands of sites used this material," Mr Dolan told 7.30.

"The most common thing we've found is people disposed of used TCE by pouring it onto the ground.

"So we would expect many thousands of litres were disposed of this way."

Back then the dumping of industrial chemicals on the ground or down drains was legal and common, but the consequences of those poor practices are now being felt.

In response to 7.30's enquiries, the New South Wales EPA revealed it was monitoring 18 industrial sites with varying levels of TCE contamination.

It is not clear how those sites became contaminated, but the NSW EPA said none of them currently posed a risk to public health.

Contaminated sites monitored by NSW EPA for TCE

SUBURB SITE NAME
Albury Former Thales Australia site
Belrose Glenrose Shopping Centre
Dee Why Roche Products Facility
Hamilton North Black and Decker
Hamilton North ELMA
Kings Park Former Dow Corning Factory
Leichhardt Former Kolotex site
Leichhardt Former Labelcraft Site
Marrickville Former Dry Cleaners and Loading Dock
Orange Electrolux Orange
Pagewood Former Email Site
Penrith Crane Enfield Metals
Rydalmere Mitsubishi Electric
Seven Hills Australian Waste Oil Refineries
Turrella Tulloch Australia Pty Limited
Unanderra BlueScope Stainless Steel
Villawood Former Orica Crop Care
Waterloo Lawrence Dry Cleaners

Source: NSW Environment Protection Authority

In some Adelaide suburbs, TCE has seeped into the groundwater and is coming up into homes as a vapour.

Mr Dolan said it was long-term exposure that could cause health problems.

"It's been linked to Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, kidney and liver cancer in particular. So there are things where your risk increases of those diseases, not that you'll necessarily get them," he said.

In 2014, TCE contamination forced the relocation of 30 public housing tenants from Clovelly Park, south of Adelaide.

The homes were near a car parts factory and a former Mitsubishi plant.

Contaminated Adelaide suburbs where intervention was required

Beverley: Three homes have had air systems installed

Clovelly Park: 30 Housing Trust tenants relocated and homes demolished

Thebarton: Six homes soon to have air systems installed

Contaminated Adelaide suburbs where levels are considered safe

Allenby Gardens

Edwardstown

Elizabeth (General Motors Holden)

Glenelg East

Hendon

Keswick

Marleston

Unley

Source: SA Environment Protection Authority

Victoria has 10 sites under observation for TCE, but has not said where they are.

A spokesman for the Victorian EPA said the authority had started meeting with the owners of car making factories and assessing existing data, but that the process was in its early stages.

"Although the car manufacturers have conducted some assessments in the past, there is a need for more comprehensive detailed site investigations once sites have closed," the spokesman said.

'A very difficult conversation to have'

Cate Moore and Dale McGill sit at a table with a fan between them.

Mr Dolan said intervention was needed if high TCE levels were found.

"It's a very challenging thing for people. We're knocking on their door and saying, 'We've found a chemical. We think there might be a chemical near or in your house. It's a chemical you don't want there.'

"As you'd appreciate that's a very difficult conversation to have."

It was a difficult conversation the SA EPA had with Deanne Backshall three months ago.

She lives in the Adelaide suburb of Thebarton and was told high levels of TCE vapours were coming up through her floors.

"Mine were in the 30s, I think. That's 30 parts per million, which doesn't actually sound like that much, but apparently it is a level that's injurious to your health," she said.

Ms Backshall has temporarily moved out while a fan system is installed in her home to disperse the TCE vapours.

The fan system costs South Australian taxpayers about $20,000 to $30,000 per house.

Cate Moore lives in another Adelaide suburb, Beverley, and has already had the system put in.

"We were very concerned, definitely, because at the time our son was still quite a young baby," Ms Moore said.

"We've been back in the house for 12 months [since the fan system was installed] and the EPA has done about five different tests to check the levels of TCE in the house, and we feel absolutely safe."

TCE has been a big problem in the United States, where the US EPA has proposed a ban.

During the 1970s in Massachusetts, a town's water supply was contaminated and children became sick.

The scandal and subsequent lawsuit was turned into a Hollywood movie, A Civil Action, starring John Travolta.

Original Article

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