Asbestos City

Written By: - Date published: 7:40 am, September 26th, 2010 - 19 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.

19 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 3.1.1.1

          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 3.1.1.1.1

            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 3.1.1.1.2

            human remains are carcinogenic?

            • Lanthanide 3.1.1.1.2.1

              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 5.1.1.1

          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.

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    When National was in power, they were very keen on Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) - basicly, using private companies to finance public infrastructure as a way of hiding debt from the public. They were keen on using them for everything - roads, schools, hospitals. But as the UK shows, that "service" ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • A Movement That No Longer Moves.
    Moving And Shaking: There was a time when people spoke matter-of-factly about the “labour movement” – a political phenomenon understood to embrace much more than the Labour Party. Included within the term’s definition was the whole trade union movement – many of whose members looked upon the Labour Party as ...
    1 week ago
  • NZ ‘left’ politically embracing extreme postmodernism
    by Philip Ferguson Much of the left, even people who formally identify as marxists, have collapsed politically in the face of postmodern gender theory of the sort pioneered by American philosopher Judith Butler. For Butler even biological sex is socially constructed. “If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    1 week ago
  • The obvious question
    The media is reporting that the (alleged) Labour party sexual assaulter has resigned from their job at Parliament, which means hopefully he won't be turning up there making people feel unsafe in future. Good. But as with everything about this scandal, it just raises other questions. Most significantly: why the ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • The moment I found out that you found out, I acted swiftly
    By Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern I am every bit as angry as you are. I am every bit as disappointed as you must be. The people with power, oversight and the ability to do something about these processes within the Labour Party should be ashamed. Whoever those people are, I ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • This is why people hate property developers
    Property developers think there is an "oversupply" of houses in Auckland:High turnover rates and falling prices may be a sign that there are too many new houses going in to some parts of Auckland, commentators say. [...] Property developer David Whitburn said there was a "bit of an oversupply" in ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Australia to Pacific: “Fuck you, you can all drown”
    World leaders are meeting in New York in two weeks for the 2019 Climate Action Summit, where they are expected to announce new and more ambitious targets to stop the world from burning. But the Australian Prime Minister won't be there, despite being in the USA at the time:Scott Morrison ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Implausible ignorance
    Labour Party president Nigel Haworth resigned yesterday over the party's sexual assault scandal. But while that's good news, its unlikely to take away the stench of a coverup. Because according to Paula Bennett in Parliament yesterday, pretty much everyone in the Prime Minister's office was involved as well:I have been ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour’s Fatal Flaw.
     Two-Faced? Labour insiders' commitment to the neoliberal status quo puts them at odds with their party’s membership; its trade union affiliates; and a majority of Labour voters, but this only serves to strengthen the perception they have of themselves as a special elite. Among the lesser breeds, they’ll talk up a ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Ten reasons the Tories do NOT want an election
    There has been a lot of talk about Boris Johnson wanting an election, and he has blustered with great gusto about 'chicken' Jeremy Corbyn refusing one, but I think there are many reasons why he is secretly glad he has been refused the opportunity:The Tories are an utter rabble,tearing themselves ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Prorogation Illegal, rule Scottish judges
    Scottish appeal court judges have declared that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament in the run-up to the October Brexit deadline is unlawful. The three judges, chaired by Lord Carloway, Scotland’s most senior judge, overturned an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the powers to interfere in the prime ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Let me explain what I meant by Everyday New Zealanders
    By Simon Bridges. The following is a press release from the office of Simon Bridges, leader of The National Party. Key ora, New Zealand. Happy Maori Language Week. Look, I’m writing to you today because I want to clear something up. There’s been a lot of kerfuffle around some things ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Yes, the SIS is subject to the Public Records Act
    I understand there's some stuff going round about how the SIS "was removed from the list of public offices covered by the Public Records Act in 2017". The context of course being their records derived from US torture, which will be disposed of or sealed. The good news is that ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • An evidence-based discussion of the Canadian fluoride/IQ study
    Dr. Christopher Labos and Jonathan Jarry discuss the recent Canadian fluoride/IQ research. They provide an expert analysis of the paper and its problems. Click on image to go to podcast. The critical debate about the recent ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Climate Change: Australia in denial
    Australia is burning down again, and meanwhile its natural disaster minister is denying climate change:Australia’s minister responsible for drought and natural disasters, David Littleproud, has said that he doesn’t “know if climate change is manmade”. Clarifying earlier comments that the question is “irrelevant” when considering the Coalition government’s response to ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Philippines activist speaking on the Duterte tyranny
    Auckland Philippines Solidarity is excited to host Professor Judy Taguiwalo for a speaking tour of NZ in September. She is a well-known activist in the Philippines and was a political prisoner under the Marcos dictatorship. Professor Taguiwalo briefly served as a Cabinet member under President Duterte but was forced from ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    2 weeks ago
  • Disgust
    I have no special insights to offer on the Labour sexual assault coverup. All I have is disgust. Disgust that an organisation could fail its people so badly. Disgust that they punished the victims rather than the perpetrator. Disgust that its party hacks are apparently blaming the victims for demanding ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Speak Up for Women calls out Greens’ censorship
    This open letter to the Green Party was penned after an opinion piece by Jill Abigail, a feminist and founding member of the party, was censored by the Greens’ leadership. (Redline has reprinted her article here).The intolerance of the Green Party leaders and their acceptance of the misogyny of gender ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    2 weeks ago
  • Member’s Day: End of Life Choice, part 3
    Today is a Member's day, and David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill continues its slow crawl through its committee stage. They're spending the whole day on it today, though the first hour is likely to be spent on voting left over from last time. After that they'll move on ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Flight to Los Angeles turned back after passengers decide they don’t want to go anymore
    An ambitious plan to fly to Los Angeles petered out into a brief sight-seeing trip and a desire to return home and get some sleep before work tomorrow. Air New Zealand has confirmed a flight to Los Angeles last night was turned back about a quarter of the way into ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Indigenous Futures: defuturing and futuring – an analytical framework for policy development?
    There appears to be consensus – by omission – that the concept of indigenous futures should be accepted at face value. So I scavenged the internet to see if I could locate an academic descriptor or a framework around how we think about it as a concept, and whether it ...
    EllipsisterBy Ellipsister
    2 weeks ago
  • Cadbury rumoured to be releasing the Pineapple Trump
    Here’s another novelty chocolate to shove in your gob, New Zealand Cadbury could be seeking to make itself great again with a rumoured new release: Pineapple Trumps, a spin on its classic chocolate-encased pineapple treat and do-it-yourself tooth remover. The global confectionery manufacturer and bumbling “before” character in an infomercial, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • The coming resource war.
    During my time in the Pentagon I had the privilege of sitting down with military leaders and defence and security officials from a variety of Latin American nations. Sometimes I was present as a subordinate assistant to a senior US defence department official, sometimes as part of a delegation that ...
    KiwipoliticoBy Pablo
    2 weeks ago
  • Māori Language Week with The Civilian
    Kia ora, Aotearoa. It’s that magical time of year. Te Wiki o te Reo Māori. In English, the week that frightens talk radio. As you probably know by now, all your favourite media outlets are participating, some more successfully than others. Stuff has changed its name to Puna for the ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Will Horizons act on climate change?
    Local body elections are coming up next month. And it looks like all Palmerston North candidates for Horizons (the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council) want to take action on climate change:Climate change is set to be a key issue in Palmerston North for the next three years if those wanting to get ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • BORA reform is stalled
    Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them. So how's that going? I was curious, so I asked for all advice about the proposal. ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Corbyn and Brexit
    As the Brexit saga staggers on, the focus is naturally enough on the Prime Minister and his attempts to achieve Brexit “do or die”. But the role played by the Leader of the Opposition is of almost equal interest and complexity. The first problem for Jeremy Corbyn is that he ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago

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