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Asbestos contaminates schools

Friday September 04, 2015 Written by Published in Health
Truckloads of asbestos-contaminated soil had to be removed from Avarua Primary School last year. Truckloads of asbestos-contaminated soil had to be removed from Avarua Primary School last year.

Asbestos has been found in buildings across the Cook Islands and the hazardous substance is contaminating a number of local schools.

 

A report prepared for the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Enviroment Programme (SPREP) recommends high and moderate priority asbestos work should be carried out in the Cook Islands including the removal of all loose asbestos – a building material which can lead to lung diseases or cancer.

The report was prepared as part of SPREP’s Pacwaste project, surveying asbestos in countries across the South Pacific.

With European Union assistance the project found asbestos, once commonly used in building, is widespread in the region.

And due to the vulnerability of South Pacific states to natural disasters, there is an increased risk of the spread of airborne asbestos dust and debris.

The Cook Islands’ report presented information gathered during a field visit by Dirk Catterall and Huw Williams between July 23 and August 1 last year.

The report said the urgent situations involving asbestos at Avarua School, Avatea School and Mangaia government buildings needed to be addressed.

High priority asbestos work also needed to be carried out at Tereora College, Takitumu School, Nikao School and Araura Primary School and College in Aitutaki. And about 186 houses in the Cook Islands may have asbestos building materials in some form – mostly of it cladding, the report found.

The report recommended all houses with material presumed to contain asbestos should be tested. All asbestos should be removed or encapsulated (wrapped) where resources permit, the report said.

However project manager Stewart Williams told Radio New Zealand International fortunately most of the asbestos had been found before it had become airborne which is when it became a significant risk to people’s health.

Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC) chief executive officer Tamari’i Tutangata told CI News yesterday he had not yet read the report but that CICC was “gradually dealing with the asbestos issue.”

He said the situation at Avarua School had been addressed last year. CIIC had received money in the latest budget for the removal of asbestos, and one school in Aitutaki and the Mangaia government buildings still needed to be addressed.

Neither the Cook Islands nor New Zealand have legislation to prevent the importation of materials containing asbestos, but Tutangata said construction standards had improved.

SPREP had told CIIC they were more advanced in addressing the problem than some other Pacific islands, he said.

Tutangata said he would be willing to comment further once he had read the report.

The disposal method for Cook Islands’ asbestos wastes was also a challenge, said the report.

“The cheapest solution would be for disposal at Rarotonga’s Waste Management Facility but this landfill is close to its full capacity and a longer term solution is now being sought.”

“The lack of available land for a new facility is, however, providing a challenge in this respect. If no suitable disposal site can be found, then the other options are disposal at sea or export to another country.”

The full report ‘Survey of the Regional Distribution and Status of Asbestos Contaminated Construction Material and Best Practice Options for its Management in Pacific Islands Countries: Report for the Cook Islands’ can be found at www.sprep.org/pacwaste.