Review follows formaldehyde scare

A full investigation of MidCentral and Whanganui district health board's mobile dental clinics has commenced after a South Island district health board found unacceptable levels of formaldehyde in its fleet.

The mobile clinics - which visit schools around the region - are supplied from a single national procurement and manufacturing process.

Staff who worked inside the Canterbury clinic complained of an acrid smell and symptoms linked to chemical exposure, such as itchy eyes, runny noses and headaches.

Canterbury District Health Board did tests on the clinic to try and identify the odour, and six weeks ago a Chemsafety test found the formaldehyde levels exceeded the national Workplace Exposure Standard.

MidCentral specialist community and regional services operations director Nicholas Glubb said the health board was aware of the issues.

"We were advised [of] the Canterbury District Health Board events by both Canterbury DHB and the Ministry of Health," he said. "Odours were noticed in two of our mobiles soon after delivery in September and October 2012 - they were tested in late 2012.

"Remedial work was undertaken to wall panels at that time and the mobiles were subsequently cleared for use."

Glubb said in recent weeks further odours had been noticed and after advice from occupational health staff, further investigation is now under way.

"We are already undertaking testing of two of our mobiles to identify whether we have a problem with formaldehyde.

"Following the most recent advice from the Ministry we will also test the remaining mobiles."

Whanganui District Health Board medical officer of health Patrick O'Connor said he was confident that the health risk to staff and patients was very low given that formaldehyde is found in several household products including carpets, upholstery, clothing, wet strength paper towels and MDF building board.

The five mobile dental units positioned on site in schools around the Whanganui DHB district would be returned to Wanganui Hospital one at a time to be assessed.

Manawatu Standard