Firefighters and Hume council are calling for tougher laws targeting operators who illegally dump and stockpile toxic chemical waste.
The United Firefighters Union has written to Premier Daniel Andrews calling for criminal sanctions including jail terms, higher penalties against companies and their directors and the ability for firefighters to sue those responsible for illegally transporting and dumping chemical waste.
The letter, written by UFU’s Victorian branch secretary Peter Marshall, says the UFU is not prepared to sit back and allow members to be unnecessarily exposed to risk “which will result in serious injury or death”.
“The illegal stockpiling of toxic waste will kill. It has likely already altered the life expectancy of a number of our members as a result of this illegal activity,” the letter stated.
The union said firefighters who battled the April 5 chemical fire in Campbellfield and last August’s Tottenham blaze had experienced nosebleeds, lung infections and rashes after being exposed to the smoke.
The UFU letter follows calls from Hume council for legislation to make it a criminal offence to illegally stockpile chemicals and waste. Councillors have voiced their frustrations at the “horrific number of fires” the Hume community had been confronted with in recent years.
There have been fires at SKM Recycling, a battery and cartridge factory, and a tyre storage yard, in addition to the April 5 blaze.
Councillor Drew Jessop said Australia was a First World country, yet its chemical disposal processes were “Third World”.
“If there is not the legislative ability to crackdown then that needs to change,” he said. “It is simply not good enough.”
Councillor Joseph Haweil said Hume didn’t deserve to be a dumping ground for waste.
“I think if this were to have happened in Toorak or Hawthorn or Kew or Brighton, you would have seen a lot more action and you would have seen it faster,” he said.
“Fines and infringements are insufficient … I think people should be criminally charged.
“The state government must come to the party.”