Firefighters are calling for tougher laws targeting operators who illegally stockpile toxic chemical waste such as that burnt in the blaze that tore through a Tottenham warehouse.
The United Firefighters Union has written to state Premier Daniel Andrews calling for the emergency laws to protect emergency services workers from toxic “death traps”.
UFU Victorian branch secretary Peter Marshall’s letter 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 by unscrupulous persons… Effectively these unlawful actions are condemning our members to a future of hideous, debilitating illnesses which could ultimately result in premature death.”
Mr Marshall was joined at a campaign launch on Monday by firefighters who suffered from serious health complaints during and after battling last August’s Tottenham blaze.
Firefighters who battled for days to control that blaze and the recent chemical fire at Campbellfield experienced nosebleeds, lung infections, rashes and even memory loss after being exposed to smoke from a cocktail of harmful chemicals.
Residents living near the site of the Tottenham fire have also complained of nausea, nose-bleeds, migraines and other illnesses.
The UFU is campaigning for stronger laws, arguing current legislation has failed to provide a deterrent to rogue operators engaging in criminal behaviour.
The union’s letter to the Premier is seeking dedicated legislation to protect firefighters from what is becoming “an ever-increasing criminal business model” of illegal transporting and stockpiling of chemical waste.
Mr Marshall said the union is seeking 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.
“We have had a number of members suffer adverse consequences as a result of fighting fires involving toxic chemical waste,” he said.
“Had there not been such conduct engaged by unscrupulous perpetrators, then such exposure would not have happened.”
Meanwhile efforts to decontaminate Stony Creek have suffered a fresh setback with the Environment Protection Authority confirming it is investigating a “murky red substance” that began running from a stormwater drain into the creek on Friday.
Friends of Cruickshank Park secretary Sue Vittori said the latest contamination in West Footscray is likely to have undone much of the clean-up work by Melbourne Water over the past few months.
“It demonstrates the continual abuse this creek and every form of life that ever tries to subsist in its waters and along its banks experiences on an almost monthly basis.”
“This latest incident is yet another reminder of why the current planning that’s underway by Melbourne Water to rehabilitate this creek will be pointless unless there is also concurrent major investment in infrastructure and prevention measures to protect this waterway from further pollution incidents. Otherwise, the government might as well be literally throwing money down a drain.”