Small fines fail to stop Chinese importers bringing lethal asbestos into the country

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A CHINESE construction giant has escaped with a paltry fine for using lethal asbestos-laced building products in Brisbane’s “tower of power’’.

Australian Border Force has slapped three fines on Chinese building products giant Yuanda, which supplied asbestos-tainted gaskets for the $650 million Queensland Government executive building last year.

Yuanda also supplied contaminated roofing panels for a $1.2 billion children’s hospital in Perth.

Border Force yesterday refused to say how much Yuanda had been fined — but revealed the maximum penalty was $15,750 per offence.

The federal government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency warned that 64 asbestos seizures at the border last financial year were just “the tip of the iceberg’’ of dangerous products that could reach Australian homes.

Agency chief executive Peter Tighe said that “no one’s really had a kick in the backside’’ for flouting Australia’s asbestos ban.

“I know it’s sexy to catch drug smugglers and tobacco smugglers but this is just as important … asbestos can cause deaths too,’’ he told The Courier-Mail.

“This could be the tip of the iceberg, what we’re finding — how much are we missing?

“Products are definitely coming in here. Who wants their kids chewing on a crayon that might have asbestos?’’

Mr Tighe said illegal asbestos imports were a “real problem’’ because some Chinese manufacturers and importers lied to Customs officers, builders and retailers.

“The certification documents from China really don’t hold any water,’’ he said.

“The problem is if a product comes out of China, and China still mines asbestos, you’re going to see a degree of contamination.

“In cement board, they still use asbestos in the mix.

“If we don’t control this area, we’ll end up with a second legacy of asbestos — and we won’t know where it is.’’

Australia banned all forms of asbestos in 2003 — but China does not classify chrysotile (or white asbestos) as asbestos so manufacturers often declare goods containing it to be to be “asbestos free’’.

Border Force has also detected arsenic in imported children’s crayons in the past 12 months — two years after some tainted crayons were recalled from retailers.

Two brands of quad bikes were recalled in recent weeks after asbestos was found in brake parts.

Border Force identified 8643 shipments as “high risk” for asbestos during 2016/17, but examined only 761.

It detected 64 shipments of asbestos-contaminated goods, including children’s crayons, four types of building products and car parts, brake pads and vintage vehicles.

Border Force issued 20 “infringements’’ to importers — including three to Yuanda and three to AA Gaskets — and has taken legal action against Chevron over imports of gaskets in 2012.

Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton yesterday said his department was reviewing the system of fines “to ensure penalties are appropriate’’.

By NATASHA BITA
The Courier-Mail

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