The Australian Navy has banned maintenance work on the submarine fleet after fears that workers may become contaminated by the chemical element cadmium.

Maintenance workers at the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) raised the alarm after examining new parts added to the submarine as part of a weapons upgrade.

The Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) conducted an initial swab testing and confirmed the presence of the heavy metal, which is used to coat electrical fittings.

Testing is now being undertaken to determine the levels of cadmium on four of the navy’s six Collins Class submarines which include HMAS Collins, Dechaineux, Sheean and Rankin.

Cadmium is a toxic bluish-white bivalent metal used to coat electrical components in submarines to minimise corrosion and is considered as a potential environmental hazard. Inhalation of cadmium-containing fumes can result initially in metal fume fever, which could lead to death.