13 September 2009

Rudd Government addresses safety issues of cadmium in Collins Class submarines

Today, Australian Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science Greg Combet (ALP-Charlton, NSW), announced an update on the situation regarding cadmium in the Collins class submarines.

Cadmium, a chemical element (symbol "Cd" and atomic number 48), is a soft, bluish-white transition metal and is mainly used in batteries. It has been used in Collins Class submarines since their 1990 inception in the Royal Australian Navy.

"From the time that this issue arose, the Rudd Government acted immediately with Defence and the Navy to identify the source and extent of any hazard, and to ensure the safety and well being of the maintenance workers and submariners who have been working on the Collins Class submarines," said Mr. Combet in a press release here.

"The Government has been concerned to maintain confidence in the operation of the Collins Class Submarines and the safety of Navy personnel. As has been publicly reported, staff of ASC, the prime contractor for maintence of the Collins Class submarines, raised conserns about cadmium contamination while undertaking maintenance of submarines," said Combet.

Inhalation of cadmium containing fumes is toxic and can result in metal fume fever, which are flu-like symptoms. Further it could progress into chemical pneumonia, pulmonary edema and possible death. The health and safety risk to Navy personnel is through inhalation of cadmium dust or vapour through airborne contamination. Defence indicates that the risk to personnel is mitigated through the use of areas of infrequent access, warning signs and good hygiene practices.

Combet indicated that "all six of the Collins Class submarines have now been tested for airborne contamination. This testing revealed that airborne cadmium levels within the Collins Class submarines are well below the Australian standard."

Earlier this month Chief of RAN, Vice Admiral Russell H. Crane, issued a service-wide message to RAN personnel concerning media reports on cadmium in submarines. Crane's message can be found here.

The Rudd Government indicates that allegations by the Opposition of an alleged failure to follow safety procedures and place warning signs on the submarines are unfounded. "Cadmium has been present in components on the Collins Class submarines since their inception, and Defence safe handling procedures have been in place throughout," said Combet.

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