370 employees exposed to cancerous chemicals
TASNETWORKS will provide compensation to two of its workers who fell ill after herbicide exposure, with fears more employees could have been affected by other chemicals.
The company's CEO Lance Balcombe said more than 370 former employees had worked on Hydro Electric Commission vegetation teams in the 1970s and 80s.
Employees at the time came in contact with herbicide 2,4,5-T, a known cancer-causer, and have since been offered medical examinations to test for three major cancers.
Mr Balcombe said 69 of the 70 staff who volunteered to be screened tested negative to Hodgin lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Soft-cell sarcoma.
All three cancers have been linked to the herbicide.
Mr Balcombe said a male employee who tested positive and is undergoing treatment, and the family of another man who had cancer and passed away in the early 1980s had now been offered compensation by TasNetworks.
"While we cast the net far and wide we may have not reached every employee," he said.
"Our door will always be open should any of that 370 or any employees develop any of these cancers."
He said eligibility was determined by an independent panel of legal and medical representatives, adding compensation amounts would remain confidential.
But Communications Electrical Plumbing Union state secretary Michael Anderson said other chemicals previously used by staff have contributed to more health conditions.
"There are more substances we're concerned about that haven't been covered," he said.
"We're not talking about a wage claim, we're talking about genuinely serious illnesses."
He said Herbicide 2,4-D, granulated pellets known as Ustalin, and a lead-based paint called Ferrador were also potentially linked to diseases among CEPU members who previously worked for TasNetworks.
Former employee Leon Prewer said he began his employment in 1977 at 17 where he mixed herbicide 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D with diesel into a backpack and sprayed vegetation with no protective gear.
"We used the same overalls for a week because we only had two pairs," he said.
"It did sting your hands and it was sticky stuff."
He said he was asked to use Ustlain pellets before they were discontinued.
Mr Prewer has since undergone multiple surgeries since February 2019 to remove a malignant tumour approximately five by seven centimetres from his oesophagus.
He said the tumour surgery burdened him for months and caused a collapsed right lung.
He said he believed the tumour might have been caused by the chemicals.
"I've got nothing now, I can't do anything," he said.
"I run out of breath, I cant even walk along the block without stopping before I start puffing and panting."
He said he had been offered to be tested for the three cancers by TasNetworks but was suspicious of their approach to the issue.
"It sounds like you've got to die or have grade four cancer before they look at you," he said.
Originally published as 370 employees exposed to cancerous chemicals