Tim O'Brien | Aug 15, 2012

Nearly 25,000 Australian-delivered Great Wall and Chery models have been recalled by distributor Ateco Automotive after the discovery of asbestos in components fitted to the vehicles.

Owners will rightly be wondering how such a situation could have arisen, and how the use of components that contain even the smallest traces of asbestos has slipped through to the Australian market.

In what may be little comfort to anyone exposed - both owners and technicians working on these vehicles - Ateco said today that while asbestos was used in the production of certain models from both brands, handling and removing the affected components "constitutes a very low health risk".

Small amounts of asbestos were discovered during routine compliance testing of spare parts some months ago by Customs and Border Protection officers. The asbestos was bound into gaskets in the engine and exhaust system.

While recently-delivered cars are free of the deadly substance, a recall monitored by the ACCC has been announced to replace components in affected models.

Affected Great Wall cars include 21,500 utes and SUVs, and affected Chery models include 1700 J11 SUVs and 550 J3 light cars.

The ACCC has confirmed that newly imported cars and the existing Chery J1 are free of asbestos and not included in the recall.

"We'll be writing to all owners very soon to explain the situation for their specific vehicle," Ateco Automotive's Daniel Cotterill told ABC news.

"Included in that information will be a risk assessment done by an independent occupational health and safety consultant that outlines the risk to drivers and passengers from the asbestos in these gaskets as being negligible."

The report notes that the danger to professional workers removing and replacing the components is minimal.

“Even if carried out in an uncontrolled way, handling and removing these gaskets constitutes a very low asbestos related health risk,” the report reads.

Owners of affected vehicles will be contacted this week, and will be asked to return the vehicle to their dealership. When they get there, they will be entitled to ask some very pointed questions of Ateco.

Perhaps they might also wonder as to the health risks to Great Wall and Chery's Chinese workers where such a dangerous material is used in the manufacture of these vehicles. And to which other markets do they go?

Speaking to the ABC, AMWU national secretary Paul Bastian has called for the companies concerned to be prosecuted.

"At the very least there needs to be prosecution of those who are found to import products or components containing asbestos in breach of our regulations," he said

Carelessness on Ateco's part? Maybe. But considerably more than simple carelessness by Great Wall and Chery.

Tim O'Brien
- TMR Managing Editor

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