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As The Dust Settles

Written By: - Date published: 10:06 am, October 26th, 2010 - 8 comments
Categories: accountability, Environment, Media - Tags: , , ,

500 commercial buildings in Christchurch to be demolished or repaired by 31st January. If not, the council will move in, repair, demolish and bill the owners. Bob Parker is claiming the deadline is because there are statutory obligations surrounding public safety. He mentioned public safety a lot on Morning Report and claims;  “I think there is a danger to people and there is a danger to business and I guess you have to weigh up, which do we have the first responsibility to and always that is the people, the people, the people.”

Lovely sentiments Bob.

Now lets look at some public safety orientated headlines from Christchurch.

Asbestos Risk in Christchurch Fire

…the Fire Service was now concerned about the possible health effects after discovering the roof was possibly made of asbestos and was warning people to stay away from the scene, he said.

“The best thing is for people to stay away from the area and anyone who lives in the area to stay inside and close their doors,” Mr Norris said.

“We have experts from the council environmental pollution team going down to the scene,” he said.

And then there was the Mail Centre which

was evacuated Friday after employees refused to continue working due to exposure to heavy amounts of dust suspected to be asbestos.

Those news items resulted from a google search for ‘Christchurch’ and ‘asbestos’. Apart from reports on those two asbestos related incidents of July 7th 2010 and Dec 13th 2008 respectively, post-quake there is only this post on the ‘The Standard’ and this single news report warning

Earthquake damage may have exposed dangerous asbestos in Canterbury houses and businesses, experts warn.

The Department of Labour yesterday released a factsheet on asbestos management, recommending people get professionals to check suspicious materials.

Now, I expect some will be of the persuasion that given our media’s relaxed – nay, comatose reaction to the asbestos question, that I’m just being bloody silly. In which case, read the DoL factsheet ( it’s short…linked above) that was released following the quake and decide for yourself whether media silence on the matter is warranted.

And if the silence is not warranted, then the next question would have to be whether Bob Parker and his council’s 31/1/11 deadline for repairs or demolition of commercial buildings is giving one whit for public safety or whether it actually constitutes a threat to public safety.

And if you have gotten this far,  you might like to ponder what action if any can be taken against the man and his council either now or in the future given that the CERRA  abrogates all liability and responsibility attached to statutory responsibilities insofar as it gives a green light to any action taken in response to the quake as long as the person or persons behind the action can make a reasonable claim to have been acting in ‘good faith’.

8 comments on “As The Dust Settles ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Ah, so Bob Parker and his mates in NACT endangering people for…

    Personal gain most likely. How much ownership in construction firms does he have?

    • Bill 1.1

      I don’t think it’s to do with personal gain Draco.

      The cost of removing asbestos after the Kobe earthquake in Japan accounted for between 68% and 94% of total demolition costs. http://ibasecretariat.org/ktf_web_fin.pdf (p 24).

      It’s all risk assessment (there is no risk). Given the incubation period for mesothelioma (up to 50 years) and the fact that the government has ensured that everyone is off the hook as far as legal liability is concerned with the introduction of the CERRA, then why not save on costs by ignoring the hazards posed by post-quake asbestos?

      It’s classic distraction, shouting “Public safety! People first!” repeatedly from the rooftops as you wilfully endanger entire generations.

      I’m genuinely astounded at the media on this. People should be going to jail for this. Not holding my breath.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        Perhaps my cynicism getting the best of me. I saw the cost cutting angle but figured it was more that someone was trying to drive up demand and, therefore, prices and so boost profit. Of course, the profit will be guaranteed when the council is forced to pay for it which will be most of them as there just isn’t that many construction workers in Southland.

  2. gingercrush 2

    I think you’re overreaching.Clearly, if a building has asbestos that means there has to be a delay then they’ll get granted a delay. Basically what the council is saying is have a proper plan for what you will do about your building. Because the situation here is streets are half-blocked, several roads have blocked footpaths or very little room to move between a car and a bike as in the corner of Bealey Ave and Papanui Road and its dangerous.

    But obviously if a building can’t be repaired or demolished in that time then the council will give them an exception. I really don’t see a problem with what Parker or the Council have said.

    • Bill 2.1

      “Clearly, if a building has asbestos that means there has to be a delay then they’ll get granted a delay.”

      The accepted approach is that if in doubt then assume that asbestos is present and have samples tested…which means that every building is granted an extension. Each sample costs in the region of $100. I don’t know how many labs there are in NZ that can do the test. But with 15 000 + damaged residential properties and 500+ damaged commercial properties, I’m guessing that any testing capability would be swamped. Not to mention that any clear up should be under the supervision of suitably qualified or licensed personnel…

      You seeing the logistical log jams yet?

      On the media front, there was a single news item covering asbestos risk after the quake, yet there were numerous reports on the danger of asbestos following the fire on Allen Street in July.

      And whereas, following the Allen Street fire, people were told to stay away as there was a suspected risk of asbestos and to shut windows and doors if they lived in the vicinity, ( there was even a facebook page set up by the fire service), we have had news programmes suggesting that people gather on street corners to witness some demolitions in the days following the quake.

      So maybe the media and the fire service over reacted to the Allen Street fire. Maybe. But even so, it is fairly well documented that asbestos represents a very real public health hazard in the aftermath of a quake.

      And yet NZ media and the authorities who, as Bob Parker points out, have statutory responsibilities are completely bloody silent. Why? Are they being complicit in encouraging an ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach in order that no awkward questions are asked or difficult, maybe expensive but necessary demands made in the interests of medium and long term public safety?

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    Soooooo whats the bet the Minister of Disaster Tourism , John Key will NOT be making any new visits to Christchurch anytime soon

    • ianmac 3.1

      Well John did make a visit to Afghanistan bravely marching into a wild insurgent territory. Bullets and rockets and mortars flew around him as he ducked and weaved to appear beside the men. “I’m beside you men!” A brave PM so no stray asbestos flake would deter him. Hand him a shovel and he will line up beside the workers, saying,”I’m beside you men.” Who would doubt his willingness to front up to the tough stuff?

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