Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Advice on Formaldehyde Exposure

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs has received advice from National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) that the formaldehyde detected in the tested converted containers housing Australian Government staff is unlikely to cause long-term health effects.

FaCHSIA contacted the Australian Government Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor John Horvath, on Thursday night seeking advice on any possible risks associated with excess levels of formaldehyde and what health checks should be undertaken. Professor Horvath referred the matter to NICNAS.

The Air Quality Investigation report provided by Royal Wolf Pty Ltd indicated formaldehyde levels of 0.53 parts per million (ppm) in the tested converted containers.

NICNAS advises that gaseous formaldehyde is unlikely to affect respiratory function at up to 3.0 ppm, even when tested on asthmatics.

The advice from NICNAS is positive news and will provide some relief to staff and their families

Even though NICNAS has advised us that the level of exposure is unlikely to cause long-term harm and medical health checks are not required, FaHCSIA will encourage all staff to undertake health checks as a precautionary measure.

These health checks will be conducted as the expense of the Australian Government.

The Government’s highest priority is the health and safety of our staff.

Staff have been asked to seek alternative accommodation at the community level. Where this is not available, staff have been supported to find alternative accommodation at the closest centre so they are able to visit their community on a daily basis.

If necessary, staff will be moved to regional centres and fly in/fly out arrangements will be put in place. Alternative options such as mobile homes and caravans are being explored.

FaHCSIA has organised independent testing of the containers by experts in the formaldehyde field.

The affected staff and their families have been advised of all updates on this issue and FaHCSIA will continue to communicate any information we have around health and safety issues, accommodation and testing of buildings.

Affected staff are employed by FaHCSIA, the Department of Employment Education and Workplace Relations and Centrelink.

NICNAS is the Australian Government’s regulatory scheme for industrial chemicals. NICNAS assesses all chemicals new to Australia and assesses those chemicals already used on a priority basis, in response to concerns about their safety on health and environmental grounds.