Tim O'Brien | Aug 16, 2012
  • Great Wall Shares Slide In Hong Kong; Serious Questions Still To Be Answered
  • News Limited Muddies Issue On Asbestos-related Recall Of Great Wall And Chery Vehicles

Great Wall Shares Slide In Hong Kong; Serious Questions Still To Be Answered

The discovery of asbestos in Great Wall and Chery cars exported to Australia has bitten in China.

Bloomberg reports that shares in Chinese automakers have sunk lower in Hong Kong, led by Great Wall, on the reports of the discovery of asbestos in cars and car parts exported to Australia.

And, perhaps making the issue worse, a spokesman for Chery, Huang Huaqiong, told Bloomberg that workers at Chery "mistakenly used a wrong batch of parts that wasn’t supposed to be used in cars exported to Australia".

This then raises a serious question: which countries do import Great Wall and Chery cars where parts containing asbestos are quite deliberately and purposely used?

A well-known carcinogen, asbestos has a proven link with the development of mesothelioma - a malignancy of the lining of the lungs - which can result from inhaling the fibres but which can remain dormant for decades.

Worldwide, fifty-five countries, including all members of the EU, ban the use of asbestos in car components (among other products). Australia banned its use on December 31 2003.

So, perhaps Great Wall and Chery might enlighten the market as to which of its export markets cars containing asbestos-contaminated parts are sold. There would appear to be quite a bit more to run to this part of the story.

And there is more on the issue here.

Many buyers and owners of Great Wall and Chery products might question why, when the presence of asbestos was discovered some months ago, it has taken until now for the market to be informed.

Ateco Automotive's Daniel Cotterill told TMR that "there was full and open disclosure with regulators but we couldn't speak to the public until we had agreement on a strategy to deal with the issue".

"Once we were alerted to it, we tried to dicover the extent of the issue. Then we went out to regulators, to Workcover, to work through the issue and work through the risk assessments," he said.

Dealers were informed "around two weeks ago". Mr Cotterill said that the health risk is deemed to be very low and that lots of cars are running around with the same gasket material as "it was in common use before 2004".


News Limited Muddies Issue On Asbestos-related Recall Of Great Wall And Chery Vehicles

When is a recall not a recall? When News Limited says it isn't? I don't think so.

Under headlines "No recall in Australia on Chinese cars built with asbestos parts" (Adelaide Now, and news.com.au, 6:17pm, 15/8), and, a second, "Chinese asbestos cars not recalled" (The Telegraph, 12:00am, 16/8), in a curious exercise in semantic as to what constitutes a recall, Paul Gover of News Limited says "not".

"There will be no recall of the nearly 24,000 Chinese-made cars sold in Australia with asbestos parts," his report begins.

So, has a recall been issued for the "nearly 24,000" Great Wall and Chery vehicles or not?

Perhaps we might ask the ACCC; after all, the ACCC is monitoring the matter with distributor Ateco, which may have breached hazardous substances regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety (Safety Standards) Regulations 1994. (A national ban on the use of all forms of asbestos took effect in Australia on 31 December 2003.)

And there it is: a media release dated 15/08/2012 heading the ACCC website begins as follows:

"The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is monitoring a recall of approximately 23,000 Great Wall and Chery motor vehicles with engine and exhaust gaskets containing asbestos."

Further, ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said, "Asbestos is a prohibited hazardous substance and these engines and exhaust systems should only be worked on by qualified personnel using appropriate safety procedures."

More to the same point, if handled incorrectly, it poses a risk to health and well-being, even at trace levels.

And, can anyone attest with any certainty that the affected parts have not been handled incorrectly by a service technician unaware at the time of handling of the presence of asbestos?

Almost 30 different gaskets have been found to contain asbestos. Ms Rickard told the ABC, "The best evidence that we have from the scientific experts is that unless (our emphasis) someone sort of mechanically abraded the gasket, there is minimal risk."

2011 chery j3 01

That is a not insignificant "unless". It is the kind of "unless" in fact that can expose Ateco to common law asbestos liabilities.

It is certainly not an issue which News Limited should be muddying, inadvertently or otherwise.

The ACCC has also advised that Ateco has "recalled gaskets that were distributed as spare parts".

In other words, affected parts are also subject to a recall and will be removed from dealer stocks, service centres and parts stockists.

Daniel Cotterill said that Ateco will be writing to their customers and will include a copy of a risk assessment Ateco commissioned from health and safety consultants, Hibbs & Associates.

They might be expecting a bit more than that.

Tim O'Brien
- TMR Managing Editor


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