A particulate (microscopic asbestos fibre) assessment undertaken by trained New Zealand professionals during a site survey identified the potentially dangerous material, which was restricted to one corner of the property, said Brider.
The site had been prioritised for immediate clean-up and cordoned off with black polythene to reduce the spread of particulates, he said.
The asbestos had also been kept moist to minimise the spread of fibres.
Samples of material on the site had been sent to New Zealand for analysis to determine if asbestos was present on the site, he added.
“The asbestos was managed in accordance with the Cook Islands Asbestos Management Guidelines. The black plastic measures are sufficient to minimise risk and the site was watered down to further minimise the risk of spread. The asbestos and material potentially contaminated with asbestos was approximately 55kg and has been contained and sealed and awaiting burial as per the national guidelines.
“All waste in the area where asbestos was found was bagged and sealed and will be buried at the T&M asbestos site.”
Ongoing contamination at the Raromart site was expected to be minimal as the source of asbestos had now been removed, Brider added.
He did not comment on questions from CINews as to whether residents in neighbouring properties had been given adequate protection from both the toxic fumes produced by last month’s fire, and the asbestos removal process.
Clarifying confusion over the sequence of events that led to an eventual decision by NES to remove all material from the Raromart site, and revelations that hazardous waste had earlier been dumped in an adjacent wetland by a contractor, he claimed the waste had actually been “stockpiled” to give workers access to the asbestos and to allow for the separation of scrap metal and concrete from other waste in the burnt-out building.
Though what Brider described as “stockpiling” appeared to some observers to be a deliberate attempt to bury toxic waste in the wetland, he said it had occurred during attempts to bury concrete from the wreckage of the building. All of the material, including the concrete, would now be dug out and taken to the landfill or to General Transport, he said.
“The contractors could not sufficiently separate the concrete from the other waste and as a result, NES could not let the work continue.”
Asked what would be be done to minimise the effect of toxic material from the Raromart building leaching through the landfill and then, eventually into the lagoon, Brider said the Rarotonga landfill was an “engineered sanitary landfill”. It was sealed with three layers of protection underneath to ensure that waste material in the landfill did not leak into the surrounding environment.