At least thirty contract workers, and additional EnergyAustralia employees, engaged in salvaging materials at Wallerawang Power Station have been taken off the site due to concerns surrounding elevated lead levels in dust, which EnergyAustralia says were found inside the boiler and turbine house.
Safe Work NSW has confirmed they have been notified of the incident.
"Safe Work NSW has been made aware of the potential exposure of demolition workers to lead at Wallerawang Power Station and is undertaking enquiries,” a spokesperson said.
“As these enquiries are ongoing, it is inappropriate to provide further comment."
An EnergyAustralia spokesperson said the sampling that had identified elevated lead levels in dust was part of ‘thorough risk assessments’ performed on the site before starting work in new areas of the boiler and turbine house.
“In addition to an overall assessment of the entire site, part of our approach involves doing localised inspections as we move from one part of the plant to another,” the spokesperson said.
“We also testing dust in areas that have sat idle for many years in case it contains anything harmful, like lead. In this case, analysis of dust inside the boiler and turbine house found elevated readings of lead.”
“When we get a result like that we stop work at the site, inform Worksafe NSW and make a plan for properly trained and equipped workers to remove the hazardous material. Only when the area is safe will we start work again.”
EnergyAustralia confirmed people had been working in the turbine house and boiler previously but not in areas where elevated levels of lead in dust were found.
A contract worker, who has requested to remain anonymous, has told the Lithgow Mercury contract workers from four different companies had been engaged at the site on the salvaging project since May.
He said he was not concerned about possible exposure to lead as workers who had undertaken blood tests had not shown elevated levels.
EnergyAustralia said medical tests were made available to all Wallerawang workers and continued to be available.
“To-date all [who have elected to be checked] have received a clean bill of health”, EnergyAustralia said.
The contract worker said that the site’s closure had left workers “scrambling”, some having moved interstate for the job, which he said they were expecting to continue from May to “at least December this year”, and even into next year.
EnergyAustralia’s website states the salvaging phase was “expected to run until late 2018”.
EnergyAustralia confirmed those working on the salvaging project were told to stop on Friday, August 17.
“Not last Friday but the Friday before we were told the site is shutdown,” the contract worker said.
“We got paid for last week but I’ve got no idea going forward from there.
“We all turned up on Monday [last week] and we had to go through the procedure of getting our stuff as if we were in a high lead environment, wipe all our tools down before we left.”
He said workers had been receiving ongoing “awareness training” about chemical hygiene and safety practices on the site since beginning the project in May.
“We were all made very aware of the asbestos throughout the plant, taking the proper safety precautions working in environments where there is asbestos,” he said.
“All of a sudden lead becomes a big issue on the job.”
EnergyAustralia said it had redeployed its employees to Mt Piper Power Station and that “there’s still a need for select contractors to be involved in Wallerawang’s rehabilitation and to support the ongoing management of the site”.
“While we evaluate the risk, contractors supporting EnergyAustralia in our salvage program, including around 30 workers, are presently not required.”
The spokesperson indicated that EnergyAustralia was considering ending the salvaging phase of the station’s rehabilitation.
“When we began this work at Wallerawang power station we were clear that EnergyAustralia would not begin demolition until the salvage work was complete and planning approvals were in place. We said this process would likely take some years,” the spokesperson said.
“We are now three years into the salvage work and we’re determining for how long it is practical to continue.
“Depending what our analysis tells us about the extent to which hazardous materials are present, it may be lower risk and more economical to now proceed to demolition.”
EnergyAustralia’s website said that the funds from the salvaging and sale of usable items “will be put towards the cost of Wallerawang’s dismantling and rehabilitation”.
The Australian has previously reported that the NSW Government still carried liability for the cost of the decontamination of Wallerawang Power Station “if it ceases operations by the end of 2018”, after its sale to EnergyAustralia.
EnergyAustralia said due to agreements it was restricted in what it could say regarding the source of funding for the salvaging phase of the power station’s demolition.