web analytics

Asbestos City

Written By: - Date published: 7:40 am, September 26th, 2010 - 20 comments
Categories: accountability, Environment, health, Parliament - Tags: , , , ,

So there is a high probability that if your house was built in the 50s, 60’s and 70’s it will contain various levels and types of asbestos.

And 15 000 chimneys have fallen over all around Christchurch, or are damaged and being demolished and the debris removed. It’s only reasonable to expect that a fair number of the damaged properties and a corresponding proportion of any rubble is contaminated with the stuff. Seeing as how removal of rubble contaminated with friable asbestos (which can only be determined by laboratory analysis) is restricted work (meaning it can only be done by or under the direct supervision of a suitably certified person),  it strikes me as utterly irresponsible that Christchurch City Council environmental compliance team leader Tony Dowson has washed his and the council’s hands of all responsibility by suggesting that “people should get a professional to test suspicious material.”  After all, what is generally suspicious about broken roof tiles or some cracked ceiling plaster or broken cement?

According to the Department of Labour/ Occupational Safety and Health Service publication Guidelines for the Management and Removal of Asbestos (which can be downloaded from this page that also contains a number of additional worthwhile links)

There is a long latency period which, in the majority of cases, ranges from fifteen to fifty years between exposure and the development of mesothelioma and lung cancer. There is some suggestion that children exposed to asbestos have a greater susceptibility to disease. Asbestos related disease, therefore, has the potential to continue to occur long after the exposure to asbestos has been controlled.

According to the same document,  even in the least dangerous circumstances, ie outdoors with very low dust levels, a respirator (not a mask) should  be worn. And skin should be fully covered. And waste should be clearly labelled and sealed in plastic bags of regulation thickness. And the waste should be buried under at least three feet (one metre) of soil. And all equipment used in asbestos removal (tools, overalls, vacuum cleaners, protective sheets)  should be treated as waste, bagged and discarded, subject to on-site decontamination or bagged and only ever opened in other contaminated areas.

Which is all pretty full on and surely demanding the exercise of a strictly adhered to precautionary principle. But I have persistent nagging doubts as to whether this is the case when deciding whether a family should re-occupy their home or not, or what if anything they should do with possessions that may be contaminated, or how and who should clear up debris from the general environment.

On the home front, the different forms of asbestos are such that any home from the relevant three decades that has suffered even what might at first seem to be relatively superficial damage such as cracks in or collapse of ‘plasterwork’, could be contaminated.

And then there is continuing loosening or breaking of materials containing asbestos due to aftershocks. And then there is the wind stirring up contaminated debris that is exposed to the elements…

I can’t help but think that if a precautionary principle was being pursued that there would minimally be an information campaign mapping the locations of 1950s, 60’s and 70’s residential developments. And I’d expect the numbers of homeless people in Christchurch would be much higher than at present if precautionary principles were being adhered to, as residents of damaged buildings from the three decades in question had their property’s subjected to rigorous inspection before they were allowed to reoccupy them.

Of course, it is always possible that there is no appreciable hazard and I’m just being a worrywart. Or it could be that there is a hazard and it’s being accompanied by simple incompetence on the part of the relevant authorities.

Or it could be that matters are well in hand.

It could be that in the interests of not adding to general levels of anxiety over the head of a problem that the authorities believe to be beyond their coping capacities, that nothing too much is or will be said unless there is a spike in lung cancers some years from now. And then some mostly forgotten, and what had seemed at the time odd yet innocuous retrospective orders made back on the 30th of March 2012, will be wheeled out to block any legal bringing to account of culpable parties or any attempts to secure compensation.

20 comments on “Asbestos City ”

  1. Swampy 1

    Yes, it is very unfortunate that asbestos is not required to be removed unless there is a building upgrade or repairs. There is probably heaps of the stuff blowing around in the wind at any one time off older buildings especially rooves that are overdue for replacement, when a property is demolished there is the risk of release, successive governments have their heads in the sand (just like they give decades for earthquake strengthening, they allow the stuff to be left in buildings forever) & it should be put on a definite timeframe for all the stuff to be removed and disposed of from every house and building in the country.

  2. just saying 2

    Excellent work Bill.

    It would be great if this post sent a ripple out into the mainstream media.

    As a barest minimum, Christchurch people need to be given the most up-to-date information, to make individual and family decisions about the potential dangers.

    There’s already been one era of criminal negligence regarding asbestos. It was banned years after the dangers were well known. Growing up, I remember my old man, who worked in a science field, regaling anyone who’d listen about keeping the hell away from the stuff, especially those who worked in the trades most affected. I suspect most thought he was a crackpot.

    The cost of that negligence, aided and abetted by commercial interests, was the health and the lives of many, most of them working class men.

    • RedLogix 2.1

      Another classic example of capitalism shielding the wealthy perpetrators of monstrous crimes.

      If from the moment the real dangers of asbestos and tobacco had been known, that the executives and shareholders of those companies profiting from their sale had been personally charged with manslaughter for every excess death their product had caused…then matters would have turned out quite differently.

      • mcflock 2.1.1

        not to mention the car manufacturers who produced unsafe vehicles, importers of unsafe prams, the liquor industry, etc etc.

        The root problem isn’t asbestos or any of the products themselves, it’s the system which provides an incentive to cover up problems and little or no chance of personal repercussions.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    From the wikipedia page on Asbestos http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos:

    “Asbestos exposure becomes a health concern when high concentrations of asbestos fibers are inhaled over a long time period.[24] People who become ill from inhaling asbestos are often those who are exposed on a day-to-day basis in a job where they worked directly with the material. As a person’s exposure to fibers increases, because of being exposed to higher concentrations of fibers and/or by being exposed for a longer time, then that person’s risk of disease also increases. Disease is very unlikely to result from a single, high-level exposure, or from a short period of exposure to lower levels.”

    I think it is better to get this stuff cleaned up and out of peoples homes ASAP, rather than being overly stringent and leaving it sitting around for longer (or, potentially, forgotten about). Of course the people doing the cleanup should probably be following best practice in terms of protecting themselves.

    • Lanthanide 3.1

      Also, from the same page:

      “Asbestos can be found naturally in the air outdoors and in some drinkable water, including water from natural sources.[26] Studies have shown that members of the general (non-occupationally exposed) population have tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of asbestos fibers in each gram of dry lung tissue, which translates into millions of fibers and tens of thousands of asbestos bodies in every person’s lungs.[27]”

      Overall this post appears to be alarmist.

      • Bill 3.1.1

        Asbestosis generally results from long term exposures.

        Long term exposures are not required with regards the cancers though.

        According to the reading I’ve done over the past days (some of the literature is through the links I provided) there is no safe minimum dose for asbestos dust.

        And yes, asbestos is in the environment in it’s natural forms. Which are not as hazardous as some of the processed forms. Or put another way. There is always background radiation, but you wouldn’t walk into a reactor or carry a lump of plutonium around in your pocket, would you?

        As an aside, I’m not too sure about that page you linked to insofar as it claims that asbestos is a disease (it’s not). Actually, it states kind of amusingly that :- “Asbestos is a very deadly deasie, and if not caught early enough, can cause a slow and painfull death.” (emphasis added)

        Meanwhile, I don’t think I have written an alarmist post. As I say, it is possible that there is no appreciable hazard. The point is that it’s really hard to tell when there is no information or organised testing programme around the issue. All we know is that exposure to asbestos dust is very dangerous and as such is usually subject to strict regulations; that asbestos was used in buildings in in such a way that identification is bloody difficult; and that asbestos has become disturbed, broken and as a result, dust has been released into homes, workplaces and the general environment.

        • Lanthanide

          I’m not sure what cancers you are referring to. Are you referring to the cancers suffered by 9/11 first responders? Given that asbestos was one of only many chemicals included in that toxic cloud (how many tons of concrete, computers, general electronics and human remains were pulverized into dust?), I don’t think you can really say that the asbestos in the dust cloud is what caused the cancers in the cleanup crews.

          Wikipedia is able to be edited by anyone, clearly whoever added the line saying “asbestos is a deadly deasie” doesn’t know what they’re talking about. However the sections I quoted above are both referenced, so shouldn’t be lumped in with the other edit on the page.

          • Bill

            I wasn’t referring to 9/11.

            Apart from lung cancer there is mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer of the membranes that line the chest and abdomen.

            Exposure is suspected of being linked to gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, and is reckoned to heighten the risk of getting cancer of the throat, kidney, esophagus, and gallbladder.

          • mcflock

            human remains are carcinogenic?

            • Lanthanide

              I didn’t include the human remains bit as an indication of it being carcinogenic, but simply as a reminder of the many and varied things that would have been in that dust cloud that people wouldn’t immediately have thought of.

              Also, if you google around for human manure, you will find some discussions about human waste containing (comparatively) high levels of heavy metals, making it inappropriate for use as a fertilizer without treatment. However there are also lots of stories downplaying this risk, or saying that it can be easily minimized with some cheap and easy methods.

              • mcflock

                True, the cloud was made of various things. But asbestos is pretty bad, as substances go. And it’s contribution to the responder casualty count could probably be estimated by cancer type incidence.

                meh – bit of a digression, anyway.

  4. Wyndham 4

    In the 1940’s, in Riccarton, Fletchers ran a factory which produced asbestos building products. Foremost amongst these was the Durock asbestos cement siding – – – panels that were used in thousands of buildings throughout N.Z. In particular they were widely used in Christchurch where the post-war boom in state housing utilised these panels extensively. The factory continued production until, I think, the 1970’s. They must still be around aplenty and because of the brittleness caused by age will now be an especially hazardous material.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    I can’t help but think that if a precautionary principle was being pursued that there would minimally be an information campaign mapping the locations of 1950s, 60’s and 70’s residential developments.

    If there was a precautionary principle being used then those houses would have been mapped and destroyed back in the 1980s.

    • Lanthanide 5.1

      Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater…

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1

        Well, I did start off with saying that they should just have been mapped but this would have either removed insurance from them or put it up to such an extent that people wouldn’t insure. Getting loans on them would have been impossible so nobody would buy them until such time as what people were buying was the land with the aim of destroying the houses. I just decided it would have been easier, and probably cheaper, to destroy them out right rather than waiting for natural forces to do it.

        • Lanthanide

          Fair enough.

          But if this were to be a government-run exercise, I think it’d end up cheaper and more productive if all affected houses were comprehensively decontaminated though. Of course that’s just my hunch, as there’s been no cost counting done either way.

      • Puddleglum 5.1.2

        The asbestos industry has known about the dangers of developing lung cancer through exposure to asbestos since the 1930s (Guardian, December 20, 1978).

        My father never worked directly with asbestos. But he did work a Hoffman Press as sole manager of a dry cleanning shop. Every few months he’d been told to replace the asbestos lining which, by then, tended to be burnt to a frazzle and as he brushed it up the burnt dust went everywhere.

        I use to stay with him on my way home from school and sometimes sat in the shop while he did this.

        Nine years ago he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. All of us in the family watched him die a horrible death less than a year later – four days after his 76th birthday and 2 days before my 42nd.

        A few weeks before he died I asked him whether he was angry at his employer. He said ‘no, nobody knew about it then.’ His job was in the 1970s. They knew alright – maybe not his employer but just about everyone else in the industry.

        There’s no baby with this bathwater.

        P.S. Last week I cleared up the debris from my two chimneys that had been damaged in the earthquake. Fortunately, one was built when the house was – early 20th century. The other must have been built in the late 90s for a logburner that got installed. Oh yes, and for the first five years of my life I lived in a ‘pre-fab’ in England. Guess what? Walls of asbestos. My sister remembers running her fingers over it and seeing the dust.

  6. jaymam 6

    Home owners should already know if they have asbestos in their house. If asbestos is stuck to their ceilings then they should have had it removed long ago. Really, they should not have bought the house with textured ceilings or had that applied. They should have asked for advice and been given it. Asbestos cement sheets are not so bad if treated carefully.
    Everybody should have known about the dangers of asbestos from 1960 or maybe long before that.
    Why are people so ready to believe that all the Arctic ice will melt and sea levels will rise metres, while ignoring the KNOWN danger of asbestos, which they should have known about.

Links to post

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • NZ announces a third P-3 deployment in support of UN sanctions
    The Government has deployed a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion (P-3) maritime patrol aircraft to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions imposing sanctions against North Korea, announced Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark. “New Zealand has long supported ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 days ago
  • Pacific trade and development agreement a reality
    Pacific regional trade and development agreement PACER Plus will enter into force in 60 days now that the required eight countries have ratified it. Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker welcomed the announcement that the Cook Islands is the eighth nation to ratify this landmark agreement. “The agreement represents ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Securing a pipeline of teachers
    The Government is changing its approach to teacher recruitment as COVID-19 travel restrictions continue, by boosting a range of initiatives to get more Kiwis into teaching. “When we came into Government, we were faced with a teacher supply crisis,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “Over the past three years, we ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Border exceptions for a small number of international students with visas
    The Government has established a new category that will allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter New Zealand and continue their studies, in the latest set of border exceptions. “The health, safety and wellbeing of people in New Zealand remains the Government’s top priority. Tight border restrictions remain ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • First COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreement signed
    The Government has signed an agreement to purchase 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines – enough for 750,000 people – from Pfizer and BioNTech, subject to the vaccine successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand, say Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Health Minister Chris Hipkins. ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • International statement – End-to-end encryption and public safety
    We, the undersigned, support strong encryption, which plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security.  It also serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people, as stated in the 2017 resolution of the ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Ministry of Defence Biodefence Assessment released
    The Ministry of Defence has today released a Defence Assessment examining Defence’s role across the spectrum of biological hazards and threats facing New Zealand. Biodefence: Preparing for a New Era of Biological Hazards and Threats looks at how the NZDF supports other agencies’ biodefence activities, and considers the context of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020
    New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020 Hon David Parker’s response following Thomas Piketty and Esther Duflo. Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, wherever in the world you might be. I first acknowledge the excellent thought provoking speeches of Thomas Piketty and Esther ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Kaipara Moana restoration takes next step
    A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed today at Waihāua Marae between the Crown, local iwi and councils to protect, restore and enhance the mauri of Kaipara Moana in Northland. Environment Minister David Parker signed the document on behalf of the Crown along with representatives from Ngā Maunga Whakahī, Ngāti ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand and Uruguay unite on reducing livestock production emissions
    Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Uruguayan Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries Carlos María Uriarte have welcomed the launch of a three-year project that will underpin sustainable livestock production in Uruguay, Argentina, and Costa Rica.  The project called ‘Innovation for pasture management’ is led by Uruguay’s National Institute of Agricultural ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • 3100 jobs created through marae upgrades
    Hundreds of marae throughout the country will be upgraded through investments from the Provincial Growth Fund’s refocused post COVID-19 funding to create jobs and put money into the pockets of local tradespeople and businesses, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta have announced. “A total ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Health volunteers recognised in annual awards
    Health Minister Chris Hipkins has announced 9 teams and 14 individuals are the recipients of this year’s Minister of Health Volunteer Awards.  “The health volunteer awards celebrate and recognise the thousands of dedicated health sector volunteers who give many hours of their time to help other New Zealanders,” Mr Hipkins ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Community COVID-19 Fund supports Pacific recovery
    The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio says a total of 264 groups and individuals have successfully applied for the Pacific Aotearoa Community COVID-19 Recovery Fund, that will support Pacific communities drive their own COVID-19 recovery strategies, initiatives, and actions. “I am keen to see this Fund support Pacific ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Community benefits from Māori apprenticeships
    Up to 50 Māori apprentices in Wellington will receive paid training to build houses for their local communities, thanks to a $2.75 million investment from the Māori Trades and Training Fund, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Ngāti Toa Rangatira Incorporated to provide its Ngā Kaimahi ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Training fund supports Māori jobseekers
    Rapidly growing sectors will benefit from a $990,000 Māori Trades and Training Fund investment which will see Wellington jobseekers supported into work, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Sapphire Consultants Ltd. to help up to 45 Māori jobseekers into paid training initiatives over two years through ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ruakura Inland Port development vital infrastructure for Waikato
    The Government is investing $40 million to develop an inland port at Ruakura which will become a freight super-hub and a future business, research and residential development for the Waikato, Urban Development and Transport Minister Phil Twyford, and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced today. The funding has been has ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Appointments made to Defence Expert Review Group
    Defence Minister Ron Mark announced today the establishment of an Expert Review Group to review a number of aspects of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) structure, information management and record-keeping processes.  The Expert Review Group’s work arises out of the first recommendation from the Report of the Government’s Inquiry ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • No active community cases of COVID-19
    There are no active community cases of COVID-19 remaining in the country after the last people from the recent outbreak have recovered from the virus, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “This is a big milestone. New Zealanders have once again through their collective actions squashed the virus. The systems ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Clean energy upgrade for more public buildings
    More public buildings will be supported by the Government to upgrade to run on clean energy, the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw announced today. Minister Shaw announced that Lincoln and Auckland universities will receive support through the Clean-Powered Public Service Fund to replace fossil fuel boilers. Southern, Taranaki, and ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Schools back donations scheme for the second year
    More schools have opted in to the donations scheme for 2021, compared to 2020 when the scheme was introduced. “The families of more than 447,000 students will be better off next year, with 94% of eligible schools and kura opting into the scheme,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “This is ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ruapehu cycle trails gets PGF boost
    The spectacular Mountains to Sea cycle trail in Ruapehu District will receive $4.6 million in funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for two additional trails, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced today. “This is an exciting development for the local community, and one that will provide significant economic opportunities ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago