There was deep concern from one member of the public, who thought better precautions should have been taken to protect the public.
Airport Authority chief executive Joe Ngamata said the roof had been in place for 40 years. “We’re replacing these primarily because asbestos roofing is not the best of materials to have on your roofs, and airborne particles or dust from damaged roofing material are a risk to people’s health if inhaled.”
He said tests were carried out earlier this year on the inside of the building, which is on the mountain side of the main road and faces Toa Petroleum’s office in Panama. A small area under a gap in the ceiling tested positive for trace asbestos residue.
“The recommendation was to block off the gap in the ceiling but we decided to replace the whole roofing as we plan to install solar panels on roofs this year,” Ngamata said.
He said the contractor, Landholdings Ltd, is certified to remove asbestos roofing from buildings.
“I believe he (Landholdings owner Bill Doherty) would have taken precautions to ensure the safety of his workers and those around the work area. He has erected a safety screen along the fence line next to the building to prevent asbestos from being blown onto the road.”
But a worried member of the public phoned Cook Islands News on Wednesday afternoon while watching the roofing being removed.
The person said that although a safety screen was in place, it was not high enough to stop material blowing away in the wind and into the path of oncoming motorists.
A CINews reporter watched as material was blown from the roof onto the road. Winds at the time were southerly averaging 10 knots.
“What you saw on the road were pieces of old insulation paper that came off during the removal, these were picked up, bagged and removed,” Ngamata said.
Doherty said adequate safety measures were in place, but agreed that the safety netting “could have been a bit higher”.
He said the insulation material seen blowing around was not a risk to the public.
The roofing has been wrapped tightly in plastic and stored on pallets, to be taken away and disposed of by T&M Heather.
Ngamata said he believed the asbestos roofing would be buried in the ground.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring rock fibre that it is harmful to humans. Although it is now banned from most modern products, it remains a serious legacy.
When products containing asbestos are damaged or wear down over time, small asbestos fibres are released and become airborne where they can be inhaled.
These fibres are not immediately toxic but can remain lodged in the lungs and eventually cause serious lung disease.