AS this week’s fluoride referendum brings Mount Isa closer to a decision, safety concerns surrounding the substance continue to grow.
In a Right to Information report recently obtained by The North West Star a Mount Isa Water Board (MIWB) employee has spoken out about safety concerns regarding the possible future handling of fluoride.
With 25 years experience with fluoride operations, the MIWB worker said the procedure involves an “unacceptable risk to operators and maintainers”.
While the current code of practice is not specific on the handling procedures, ther biological monitoring of workers exposed to fluoride involves collection and analysis before and after each shift.
The employee claims the proposed system devised by the plant contractor requires workers to slice open a 25 kilogram bag of fluoride powder and use a vacuum want to extract the powder, which is an acceptable method within the code, but workers believe the method to “represent the barest minimal standard”.
There are a number of potential health hazards outlined within the the code of practice including toxic effects known as fluorisis, anaemia, increased bone density (osteosclerosis) and calcification of spinal ligaments.
In water treatment plants, like the one being built for Mount Isa, the current code of practice reports that potential poisoning occurs when sodium fluoride dust enters the lungs.
In December the Mackay fluoride treatment plant was closed due to similar safety concerns.
Council’s corporate communications manager said the fluoride had been switched off because of workplace health and safety issues.
He said that fluoride dust was emanating into the purpose built room and it was deemed unsafe for workers.
Mount Isa Water Board chief executive Greg Stevens said he was unwilling to comment on the claims made by the concerned employee, but said that any equipment or handling procedures implemented would be standardised and would comply with any health and safety standards.