Asbestos roofs on Porirua state houses are being torn down – but some say they have been told nothing about the potential danger to their health.
Laura Haywood, who is 36 weeks pregnant, moved into her Gear Tce flat this month and says she was told nothing by Housing New Zealand about the roof being replaced on her block of four flats.
The first she knew of it was when roofing contractors wearing protective suits and masks turned up on Friday.
"All they had was a sign on the lamp-post saying just saying 'Caution asbestos', or something like that."
However, HNZ said that all tenants were informed of the maintenance programme to reroof 60 properties in the Wellington-Hutt Valley region. It could not provide the cost of the work.
Ms Haywood, 22, had just set up her baby's room and was worried that dust riddled with asbestos fibres could have contaminated the cot mattress and bedding.
The roofing material was wrapped in black plastic with a caution sticker attached. It was still sitting next to the footpath yesterday.
Asbestos was commonly used in building materials until it was banned in the late 1980s, when it was recognised as a carcinogen.
An HNZ spokesperson said the reroofing of three properties on Gear Tce was part of a maintenance programme in the region. Before it began, most of the roofs were identified as possibly containing asbestos.
"Fifty-eight of the houses have concrete tiles which, under the Asbestos Code of Conduct and Policy, are treated as though they have asbestos.
"Before commencing the work, our contractor contacted the tenants to talk them through what work is being done and if there are any health and safety issues."
The spokesperson said all tenants were spoken to before the work started and "all gave verbal confirmation that they were happy for the work to begin".
Ms Haywood's mother, Trina Haywood, said the HNZ property manager did not say the roof was being replaced when they looked at the flat about three weeks ago.
"I bloody asked him. He could have said right then and there. I watched my grandfather die of lung cancer caused by asbestos, that's probably why I got up in arms quickly.
"You're desperate for a house but you're not going to sacrifice your health for it, are you?"
Gear Tce resident Noel Alder, 59, who lives in a single-storey block of four flats, had his roof replaced last week and said although contractors told him just before they started work, HNZ should have warned him.
"I just shut my windows, I didn't want all the crap coming inside."
New Zealand Demolition and Asbestos Association president Dina Stil said all nearby residents should be informed about removal methods and dust control by contractors or HNZ as a common courtesy. If roofs were worn or cracked they could easily break apart, releasing asbestos fibres. Contractors must adhere to the association's removal guidelines.
HEALTH RISKS INCLUDE CANCER
Asbestos was banned in the late 1980s in New Zealand after it was recognised as causing cancer.
It was commonly used in building materials before the health risks were known.
National Poisons Centre toxicologist Michael Beasley said the various types of asbestos posed a danger to people if they were exposed to it over a long time. "Generally speaking, the large majority of concern relates to long-term repeated exposure."
Nearly 1200 people were added to the National Asbestos Register between 1992 and 2010 with confirmed asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and lung abnormalities.
These diseases are crippling, very painful and usually fatal. There are no known cures.
Carpenters, plumbers and electricians are most likely to be affected by asbestos, according to the 2010 annual report on Asbestos and Occupational Lung Disease in New Zealand.
- The Dominion Post