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Release of Independent Investigation of a Reported Cluster of Cancer Cases at the National Gallery of Australia

29 March 2007

The National Gallery of Australia has welcomed the draft findings of an independent investigation into a reported cluster of cancer cases. 

Details of the first stage of the investigation, which considered past and present exposure to carcinogens at the Gallery, were made available to a meeting of all staff today. 

Conducted by Dr Tim Driscoll, a specialist in occupational medicine and public health medicine, and Mr Gary Foster, a consultant occupational hygienist, the eight-month investigation involved face-to-face meetings with current staff and former staff and numerous site inspections both inside and outside the Gallery building.  All work areas considered to have, or to have had, exposure to hazardous substances were formally inspected. Additional information was also gathered from current and former staff via email.

Gallery Deputy Director, Mr Alan Froud, said the first stage findings were comprehensive and encouraging.  Mr Froud said while the investigation had identified a number of potential exposures to definite or suspected carcinogens it had also concluded that: “none of these exposures seem likely to havebeen high enough to have meaningfully increased the risk of Gallery staff members, or members of the public, developing cancer.” 

Such findings were in line with the conclusions of an earlier Gallery investigation undertaken by Health Services Australia in 2002 which stated that it was “… exceedingly unlikely that there is any occupational cancer-causing agent responsible for this cluster of illnesses”.

In keeping with the Gallery’s practice of full disclosure of the progress of the investigation, the draft report was presented to staff by the investigating team, and staff will now have the opportunity to clarify issues and provide further information. The report is available on the Gallery’s web-site.

Mr Froud said the investigation included a number of recommendations for greater protection against known and suspected carcinogens which the Gallery has implemented or is in the process of implementing. Dr Driscoll advised Gallery staff that exposures at the Gallery to known or possible carcinogens were at a level commonly experienced in everyday life. However, employers have a duty of care to ensure that even incidental exposures in the workplace are minimised or eliminated.

Stage two of the investigation, which involves an epidemiological assessment of data held by state and territory cancer registries, is expected to be completed later in the year. 

Full details of the investigation are available on the Gallery’s web site nga.gov.au

For further information contact Ken Begg on 0412 174 319