Australia: Another toxic factory fire endangers working-class suburbs
10 April 2019
Last Friday an enormous fire engulfed a factory used to store chemical waste in the northern Melbourne suburb of Campbellfield. A worker, Vignesh Varatharaja, a refugee originally from Sri Lanka, was badly burned and had to be hospitalised and placed in an induced coma. About 175 firefighters were needed to quench the blaze.
A massive toxic plume of black smoke, visible from central Melbourne 30 kilometres away, covered a large area in the city’s north and triggered emergency health alerts. Residents in the working-class suburbs of Campbellfield, Broadmeadows, Pascoe Vale and Coburg were advised to take shelter indoors immediately. Eleven local schools were closed for the day, while 12 more reportedly telephoned families asking them to collect their children.
As it is not known exactly what chemicals were being stored at the site, the health danger posed by the fire remains unknown.
The fire is only the latest in a series of incidents in Melbourne involving toxic and other industrial waste storage. All have affected working-class areas and all were the product of the subordination of public health and safety to the corporate profit interests.
There have been eight factory fires in Melbourne since October. One of the schools affected by Friday’s fire, Broadmeadows Primary, has been forced to shut down multiple times in recent years due to dangerous fires, including at Coolooro’s SKM Recycling factory and at a nearby tyre dump. In the western suburbs, an enormous fire erupted in Tottenham last September in a factory used to store chemicals.
The Tottenham fire triggered ongoing investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency…