Intervention staff possibly exposed to formaldehyde: Macklin
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has revealed almost 30 staff involved in the Northern Territory intervention into Aboriginal communities have possibly been exposed to high levels of formaldehyde.
In a snap visit to Darwin, Ms Macklin says she was informed last night that shipping containers where emergency response staff have been living may have high levels of formaldehyde.
Over 50 intervention staff may have been exposed, and staff have been contacted overnight and now have alternative accommodation.
Ms Macklin says staff have been living in the containers since October and there have been complaints as far back as November about an odour in the containers.
Ms Macklin says there have been complaints of headaches and runny eyes among some staff and she has requested a report as soon as possible.
Intervention chief Major General David Chalmers says the containers are in 23 Top End communities across the Territory, but there is no risk to the wider community.
A spokeswoman for police has confirmed officers have been told to seek alternative accomodation until the full extent of the potential formaldehyde poisoning is known.
Then Northern Territory Education Department says it doesn’t use shipping containers for accommodation and the NT Justice Department says its checking whether any converted shippping containers it plans to use at Berrimah jail in Darwin are affected.
The Department says its containers aren’t operational yet and no prisoners have stayed in them.
The 23 affected communities are Angurugu, Arlpurrulam, Belyuen, Bulla, Bulman, Galiwinku, Gapuwiyak, Gunbalanya, Maningrida, Milikapiti, Minjilang, Minyerri, Nauiyu, Nguiu, Ngukurr, Numbulwar, Peppimenarti, Pirlangimpi, Warruwi, Umbakumba, Yarralin and Yirrkala.
Formaldehyde can cause cancer
An expert in toxicology says long-term exposure to the chemical formaldehyde can cause cancer.
Professor Michael Moore, director of the National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology in Queensland, says the chemical could have come from insulation inside the containers.
“The insulation can actually break down when there’s a great deal of heat or the insulation is getting old and that would result in higher levels of formaldehyde in the containers.”