Burning sleepers from the old Ghan

Submitted: Friday, May 22, 2015 at 11:33
ThreadID: 118941 Views:6766 Replies:16 FollowUps:35
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Hi all.

I'm just back from great trip to the SA desert country. Mt Ive station in the Gawler Ranges and Lake Gairdner, Arkaroola and a crossing of the Simpson.

There were lots of folk collecting redgum sleepers for firewood and one campground was selling them for the purpose.

There's a wrinkle though.

Public health authorities have warned about the risk of ingesting asbestos fibres shed from the brake linings of older trains. They gather in the sleeper cracks and are released when the wood is split and when it's burned. They accumulate in the ashes.

When sleepers were replaced a few years back on the Sydney to Melbourne rail line, Vic side, local councils put up warning notices about this.

There's no safe level of exposure. It may take one fibre to produce meso, it may take many. We don't know.

Something to think about.
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Reply By: Pushy - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 11:42

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 11:42

Here in Qld a lot of timber infra-stucture was regularly treated with arsenic to stop pests.
AnswerID: 554084

Reply By: OBJ - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 12:10

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 12:10
If we're going to worry about everything that could kill us we would never leave the house. I've used a Ghan sleeper for firewood and lived to tell the tale. I am sure there are thousands of others as well. I'd worry more about aht is around the next bend first.
AnswerID: 554085

Follow Up By: Jackolux - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 12:29

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 12:29
Interesting I never would go given that a thought , I have travelled the Oodnadatta Tk several times , never used any sleepers for fire wood

The asbestos danger might be worth keeping in mind if you have kids or young ppl with you , it's not like it's gonna kill you the next day , could take 20 years plus .
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 12:40

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 12:40
Yeah, the latency period is 25 years or more. My employer exposed me to it in the 70s without PPE or warning so that partly explains my interest.

I met a guy in the cleanup industry who still got meso despite the protective gear that was thought to be adequate at the time. It's a nasty one; no cure and a bad death.
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Follow Up By: bigden - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:27

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:27
this is not something i would of thought of
i have seen someone die from asbestos fibres ,its not something to casually put aside. i think this news is something to worry about and for everyone to be careful of old sleepers
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Reply By: Danna - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 13:04

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 13:04
I don’t see any reason why would any body put them self’s and family in unnecessary danger for just a having campfire ……
But not many people would know; by mining iron ore very often asbestos is also disturbed, as those two minerals are more than often-in same geological formation. This can be seen in many Pilbara’s Gorges (white or lightly blue vain in formation is asbestos)
Than I would say, “what can I do” This is a risk that is not avoidable, since wind will spread dust everywhere.
Cheers Dana
AnswerID: 554089

Follow Up By: Member - Bentaxle - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 17:00

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 17:00
Unfortunately the asbestos fibres that you can see are not going to do any damage, its the microscopic fibres you can't see are the ones doing the damage and the generally come from BLUE asbestos and theses fibres are finer, while white asbestos fibres are coarser and are not as easily inhaled
May the fleas of a thousand afghan camels infect the crutch of your enemy and may their arms be too short to scratch.

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Follow Up By: Danna - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 23:24

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 23:24
Hi Bentaxle
BLUE asbestos is mostly the type of asbestos that is crashed when mining iron ore in Pilbara region. Any kind asbestos (white, brown & blue) in microscopical form – (crashed when mining) is dangerous. Of cause, if asbestos is not disturbed, it is not dangerous.
HooRoo Dana
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Reply By: dean ( SA ) - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 16:42

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 16:42
Interesting stuff.
What about the sleepers laying around near Leigh Creek. Have collected many of these and burnt them without thought so I wonder if the same could apply.
AnswerID: 554096

Follow Up By: Sigmund - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 17:02

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 17:02
Asbestos use wasn't banned in Aus til 2003 (the Navy was excepted).

Maybe train brake linings changed before then.
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Reply By: Member - William B (The Shire) - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:13

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:13
Hi Sigmund,

Thats something to bear in mind.

Being a older mechanic I'm conscious of the asbestosis problem.

A part of regular vehicle servicing was de-dusting the brakes.
Not to forget clutch plate dust as well.

As has been mentioned it may not rear its ugly head until much further down the track.

As for being worried about what is around the next bend, rather than asbestosis, the person saying that has not seen some one suffering from this killer disease.

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AnswerID: 554104

Follow Up By: Sigmund - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:45

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:45
Yeah. It was used in some gaskets too.
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Follow Up By: disco driver - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:56

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 19:56
And in houses and sheds and fences and country halls and schools and it's still around just about everywhere
It's a risk we take in living but with some care we can minimise the risks to life and health..

Stay Safe. Minimise the risks and keep breathing..

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Follow Up By: Member - johnat - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 22:10

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 22:10
The asbestos that is bound in sheeting is perfectly safe UNLESS it is disturbed, broken or drilled. Whilever it is solid and not generating any dust it is fine. If A/C sheet is broken, it is best to paint the broken edges to reseal the product while a safe removal can be arranged.

A far worse problem, imho, is that of fibreglass insulation used in gazillions of houses across Aus. The physical structure of the fibreglass batts is almost identical to that of asbestos yet nobody seems to notice.
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Reply By: lindsay - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 20:31

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 20:31
Interesting, after 30 years of working with trains and brake systems in Victoria, all goods wagons , locos and passenger cars had cast iron brake blocks. Have only seen a few fibre blocks that were used on some special wheels. Commonwealth railways of the old narrow have been different, but I doubt it.
AnswerID: 554107

Follow Up By: Zippo - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 20:47

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 20:47
The modern passenger railcars use disc brakes with friction pads like road vehicles. Since the prohibition of asbestos in these areas, there is still a window period when asbestos brake materials may well have been used on railways.
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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 06:06

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 06:06
Yep Cast iron shoes.

Some Metropolitan trains use different linings.

Put another log on the fire.
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 06:56

Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:54

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:54
LOL it IS true.

A story from another area that may include suburban tracks could be a different situation.

Oh and who put out the story - The Firewood Association of Australia.

LOL You could also check with McDonalds or Coca Cola think junk food is good for you. They have no more of a vested interest in that subject as the Firewood Association have with people getting firewood from other than from them.

Google factoid alert!!!
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Reply By: Bob R4 - Friday, May 22, 2015 at 21:47

Friday, May 22, 2015 at 21:47
I bet the train's brakes weren't use too much out there.
Don't think they were interested in stopping for camels, cattle etc.
Everything is relative.
AnswerID: 554116

Follow Up By: Michaeljp - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 01:21

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 01:21
How long has it been since a train last use the line? with all the dust storms, rain and floods to wash some of the fibres away i wouldn't worry about it.
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Reply By: Slow one - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 05:52

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 05:52
On the effects of asbestos and the time it can take to show up.

My cousin was a painter for the Qld housing commission, painting or repainting their fibro houses. He died form the asbestos inhaled when he sanded back the houses. This happened in a relatively short time frame.

My dad had a chest x ray when he was 79. The doctor said I don't want to alarm you as this will not change your life. Have you ever worked with asbestos and Dad replied yes during the war on naval ships. The doctors reply was you have it but you will be long gone before it can have any bad effects on you. That diagnose was over 40 years later.

I see fibreglass mentioned but it is an entirely different fibre. It also has a couple of redeeming features in that it can be seen in the air with light and it irritates your skin,eyes and throat warning of it's presence.

AnswerID: 554119

Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 09:16

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 09:16
You know, as a bushwalker of 25 years, and more recent 4WDr the past few, I was always hesitant about disturbing such things.
For all those walks we did, we never had a fire at all at bush camps, only in the Alpine cattlemen huts when we walked those regions in Vic / NSW.

While others say you can pick up a few sleepers on the way up for a comfort fire in the desert, I would brief my group to bring a small bag of hardwood each for burning instead.
One popular camp on the Ood Tk sells sleepers for $10 ea to burn there in the fire drums, they just go out and load them up from the Ghan.

Coming back down the Ood form Mt Dare the other week, we came out from a Peake visit, and picked up 3 partial rotting sleepers to take to Coward Springs with us for the night.
Not sure who is piling them up along the route down, but there seems to be an effort to get them into piles along the way.

I know they will be gone soon, rotting down quite quickly, still felt a bit odd taking them to burn.
A bit like leaving nothing but footprints, taking nothing but memories / photos type of thing.
Even the temptation to grab a rail spike form the Ghan as a souvenir is resisted, even though they can be a tyre hazard for those driving off the track for a look see here and there.

Wonder if Coward Springs is aware of the potential issues with asbestos ?
AnswerID: 554120

Follow Up By: Sigmund - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:32

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:32
Yeah Les. I let Greg know.

BTW the campground is up for sale.
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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:53

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:53
Was surprised to see Greg still there, as he was in Apr '14 trip through.
So just the campground is for sale ??
Not a bad little spot that.

The owners on KI, not sure of the property make up, I think there's a bit of land out back, but not 100% sure how much.
The camel treks once a year around camel cup time go through some private property / crown land through the back blocks, but not sure who actually does them, or what else is there as far as landholding go.
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Follow Up By: Sigmund - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 12:34

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 12:34
Greg does the camel trips; that's FS too.

Apparently revenue from the trips is 20 k p.a. and from the campground 75 k.

Check 'em out on FB.
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Reply By: Sigmund - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:37

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 10:37
Mesothelioma is a horrible death and the only cause is asbestos in the lungs. Yes, everyone's going to die but who would knowingly run this risk?

Lincoln Hall conquered Everest inc. a night sitting on a ridge in the death zone only to die of the asbestos sheets he played with as a kid.

The incidence of asbestos-related diseases is only going to increase as more baby boomers go beyond the latency period.
AnswerID: 554124

Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 20:51

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 20:51
Bit of a related news story here, very sad to see kids in the 60's playing in blue asbestos :(

AnswerID: 554142

Reply By: Dion - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 21:47

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 21:47
If the old sleepers were only used to provide heat for cooking, there would be plenty out there still to go around. But some people don't realise they are actually a limited resource and try and heat up 100km2 of air around them.
AnswerID: 554145

Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 23:09

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 23:09
Why are they only for cooking?
FollowupID: 840128

Follow Up By: Dion - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 00:20

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 00:20
Hmmmm, if you aren't part of the solution, then YOU are part of the problem.
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Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 05:52

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 05:52
What specific problem are you referring to? global warming or ..........
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Follow Up By: Member - abqaiq - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 06:29

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 06:29
Leave the sleepers lay. They are a part of Australian history. If they are dug up what will there be for others to see and appreciate the struggle of laying that track. Taking this dig up burn up concept further, why not burn down all the old settler cabins and farmsteads along the way? We have seen ancient and significant [1000+ year old] mud brick buildings being played and destroyed by thoughtless children.
Take only photos, leave only footprints.
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Follow Up By: Dion - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 07:02

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 07:02
The Problem is, the sleepers are dissappearing at an alarming rate. There are now no sleepers between Marree and Alberrie Creek. The rate of sleepers going has been at a positive exponential rate over last two decades or so.
I first started to travel and camp (work related) along the track between Marree snd Oodnadatta in the last years of the railway line operating.Recreation traveller's were not plentiful. When we did drive through dusk and into the night, we'd observe smallish fires, no big bonfires.
Now as a recreational traveler on the Oodnadatta track, I'd like to pick a campsite based on there being fuel to cook a meal with. Problem, nothing between Marree and Alberrie Creek.
Still do the occasional drive through dusk, you can pick where people are camping in advance of seeing them from the big orange glow as the try and heat 100km2 of air space around them. What are they doing, spit roasting a bloody camel? Nup through greed, ignorance, perhaps oneupmanship, or the 'look at me' wow factor of a big bonfire. No respect for travelers who will come after them. Just burn everything in site for the sake of it.
I was at Dalhousie Springs in the year before wood fires being banned in Witjiri National Park. A campsite across the track had a fire going, we certainly weren't camping in their pockets, but could feel the radiant heat from their fire. And now we wonder why a Solution is now imposed on us by the authorities to control a Problem becsuse of peoples oneupmanship attitudes that just don't care or can self regulate their activities.

I can cook a two course meal including a roast in the camp oven with a little over one sleeper. About a third of a sleeper in the morning to boil the billy and cook breakfast.
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Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 07:52

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 07:52
Thanks for clearing your position up Dion but it sounds like YOU are part of the problem
By your own admission you are burning two sleepers a day when in the area
If these sleepers are part of our historical landscape I don't see the distinction between burning them for cooking or a campfire, they are still going to be gone!
Can the campfire guy toast a marshmallow at the end of the night to justify his burning of the sleepers?

There is no necessity to cook on an open fire if there is no alternate timber available with gas stoves etc

I don't see that you have a solution at all
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Follow Up By: Bushranger1 - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 08:17

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 08:17
I know EXACTLY where you are coming from Dion.
We see idiots all the time with huge bonfires even in areas that have signs that wood supplies are limited.
A Park ranger we met in the West some years back dropped off timber on his morning round to each occupied site but would NOT do so to people who used an excessive amount. Great idea.

Like I said on an another subject "No matter how easy you make the lesson some people never learn". Common sense isn't it? Oh that's right there is limited amount of it around it would seem.

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Follow Up By: Dion - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 08:44

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 08:44
AlbyNSW, I see your problem. You haven't read my post properly. I never ever said that the sleepers should not be used because of historical significance. Someone else said thst in another post (may I suggest a trip to Specsavers or Opsm for you!) I wouldn't care if people were using the sleepers to burn for the heat required to cook something, no issues at all. It does get up my goat that there is a waste of a finite resource because people have got to have a big roaring fire.
I have responsibly applied a solution, only burn what is required to cook, and if it's to bloody cold to stand around or sit around in shorts and a tee shirt, I'll dress up accordingly.
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Follow Up By: AlbyNSW - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 09:42

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 09:42
And if you used a fuel stove there would be no need to burn them at all.

Just seems like a double standard to me, some are happy to justify their actions under the guise of cooking when there are alternate cooking methods available and yet frown on other travellers who get equal pleasure from sitting around a campfire as you do cooking on one
I fail to see the difference between the two
Me, I am in both camps when conditions suit or no fire when that is the most appropriate course of action.

BTW my eyesight is perfect and hindsight is checked often
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Follow Up By: Dion - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 10:15

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 10:15
I'd say sight is defficicient on both counts. Anyway I'm off to get some popcorn.
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Follow Up By: Dave(NSW) - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 12:02

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 12:02
I can't see what the problem is, They are only railway sleepers.
No one said a dicky bird about the railways allowing contractors to collect train loads of them to sell to the landscape garden suppliers.

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Reply By: desray (WA - Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 23:19

Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 23:19
The timber sleepers were soaked in arsenic to stop pests eating them. the arsenic is released into the air when burned. Hold your breath around the camp fire.....
AnswerID: 554149

Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 07:18

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 07:18
The Brake story is a load of bollocks, but THAT, I believe.
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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 09:25

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 09:25
I'm with you on this Boobook.

I was always under the impression that the greatest risk came from the arsenic and deposits of diesel and oil.

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Follow Up By: disco driver - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 15:24

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 15:24
I suspect that the arsenic story too is a load of bollocks. What about the workers handling them?
Have you ever tried to cut a dry Wandoo sleeper with an axe??
They were used because they were virtually termite proof and had a safe life of around 30years in the ground.
Jarrah too is relatively termite resistant and wouldn't require any treatment during its time as a sleeper.
Please note that I don't comment on sleepers cut anywhere other than WA.

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Follow Up By: desray (WA - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 22:31

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 22:31
Hi, well odds are they have been sprayed and depending on how old they are is an indication of what they could have been treated in, if they look old - 70s and prior then i would think dieldrin, copper cyanide, copper arsenate and tar creosote, etc - if later then probably just the arsenate (the stuff that used to make treated pine green) and the creosote - just think of how long an untreated log would last on the ground and then consider what you would have to put on it to last 20-40 years! Now some of these chemicals are not too water soluble (or they would rinse out of the timber with rain) so i imagine they would be quite stable in the wood - however i would be inclined to use plastic film between them and your vegetables.

taken from a gardening forum. I think its fair to say most rail sleepers in Wa HAVE been treated with something "nasty " Burn at your own risk.
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Reply By: Michael H9 - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 06:40

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 06:40
I think the horse has bolted for anyone over a certain age. I can't see how anyone in the 70's couldn't have had some sort of contact with asbestos. The stuff was everywhere, particularly brake linings and houses. My neighbour's roof was corrugated asbestos sheeting, pity the guys who installed that. In reality, I think it's a bit like sun exposure causing melanoma, yes it can cause a bad disease but not everyone gets it even after a lot of exposure and some get it after minimal exposure. I had a smoker plumber in his late 70's tell me they used to cut it with power tools doing bathrooms where they couldn't see the other end of the room for dust, no masks of cause. Life's a health hazard and a lottery.
AnswerID: 554151

Follow Up By: disco driver - Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 15:14

Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 15:14
You are so right about the horse bolting.
In years past but not that long ago there used to be prefab garages and sheds made of timber or steel frame and asbestos cement sheeting and roofing. For a short time I used to erect them as a contract job.
You erected the shed/garage and then asked the client where he wanted the doors and windows, then cut them out with a 9" angle grinder cutting blade and framed them up with timber.
That was the standard practice back then.

Luckily for me I found a better paying job and moved on.
Probably saved my life too.

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Reply By: Ron N - Monday, May 25, 2015 at 11:17

Monday, May 25, 2015 at 11:17
Don't take this warning lightly. You can be very easily poisoned by breathing in poisonous toxins contained in wood being burnt.

Asbestos was used in railway workshops by the truckload. It was used for pipe lagging, for rail truck or carriage insulation, for brakes, even in protective paint which contained bitumen AND asbestos.

Lead paint on timber being burnt is a classic source of lead poisoning. That's why demolition timber is no longer sold for firewood.

Here's another one I wager none of you thought about. In W.A., we have the Box Poison bush (Gastrolobium - that lovely "orange lucerne" that has killed hundreds of thousands of stock animals by poisoning via ingestion).
There are about 100 species of Box Poison, with only about 2 not endemic to the SW of W.A.
Box poison contains Monofluoroacetic Acid - a particularly toxic poison that is more commonly known as 1080.
In its commercial form it's used to poison vermin. It will poison all mammals - in relatively low concentrations.

I knew a Shire Foreman who was an old hand from the SW of W.A. There wasn't much he didn't know.
However, he didn't know about the potential poisoning effects of using Box Poison to start a fire, to toast his sandwiches on.
He did just this - and ended up very, very crook within a few hours, and had to be rushed to hospital for treatment.

He not only breathed in the MA, his sandwiches also absorbed the MA from the smoke.
The doc was on the ball and questioned him closely on what he'd been doing during the day, suspecting some kind of neurological poisoning.
He soon figured out that the foreman had ingested a goodly dose of MA from using Box Poison to start his lunchtime fire on a cold day.

Many toxic products that are very harmful to your health can be released by burning, and travel in the vaporisation and smoke particles.
You are well advised to heed any official or well-based advice about the potential absorption of those toxins.

Cheers, Ron.
AnswerID: 554189

Follow Up By: Sigmund - Friday, May 29, 2015 at 05:19

Friday, May 29, 2015 at 05:19
Gidgee leaves & seedpods have the same toxin. A major risk to stock.
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Reply By: Member - PhilD_NT - Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 21:32

Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 21:32
What a shame they are being destroyed.
Are you sure that they were Redgum? There were a number of reasonably intact Jarrah sleepers from the old line turned in to various furniture and other items in about 1984 under the name of "Ghan Sleeper Craft". Absolutely beautiful from the ones I saw and were made in the Top End region around then. I believe that there was one special set of chairs and table made for the NT Govt. I'm visiting some relatives soon in Adelaide and must check if they still have the breadboard made from some of it. With how expensive it was it was all I could afford at the time.
AnswerID: 554349

Follow Up By: Sigmund - Friday, May 29, 2015 at 05:54

Friday, May 29, 2015 at 05:54
A woodturner has made pens from a sleeper & it was IDed as Jarrah.
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