Retrospective asbestos checks urged
A Fletcher EQR contractor is calling for retrospective asbestos testing of earthquake-damaged homes repaired before mandatory checks were brought in.
Bruce West, an accredited EQR repairer since 2011, criticised the home repair programme's asbestos testing regime in an open letter to the Earthquake Commission (EQC), Fletcher EQR and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.
He was concerned that testing of homes built between 1940 and 1990, in which asbestos could be present in lathe and plaster, flooring, soffits, roofing and exterior cladding, did not become mandatory until June 2012.
His fear was "thousands" of repairs had been completed without testing, "with around 12,000 workers, together with occupants of repaired homes potentially exposed to unidentified or uncontained asbestos hazards in those properties".
West's suspicions were further aroused when a Fletcher EQR memo announcing the mandatory testing, sent to contractors on June 25, 2012, was dated January 15, 2011.
He wanted all homes meeting the risk criteria to be "urgently" tested for asbestos by an independent authority, and for Fletcher EQR to be immediately suspended until its methods were "comprehensively audited".
West told The Press that checking work completed before June 2012 should have been an "obvious priority".
"If you're that concerned with ongoing work, then you should be equally concerned with the work that's already been performed," he said.
"There's no reason for it not to be done, other than the inconvenience and expense to EQC and Fletcher, but then they should have thought of that earlier."
West said he was aware asbestos could be found in stipple ceilings, soffits and garage linings, but not lathe and plaster.
He had not considered the risks because the pace of the work programme meant he "had to just get on with it".
West accepted the onus was on contractors to understand risks on their building site, but felt EQR should have given asbestos greater emphasis.
He said he was surprised, given Fletcher's construction experience, that testing had not been mandatory "since day one".
EQC business services manager David Lowe said a guideline on managing asbestos was issued in January 2011.
Until June 2012, contractors were required to arrange testing for all houses assessed as potentially containing asbestos.
The mandatory testing introduced in June 2012 was "well in excess of the legal minimums", he said.
"The improvements made over the life of the programme make [the home repair programme] one of the best examples of asbestos investigation and management in New Zealand."
The memo dated January 2011 that West had received was an error "possibly due to incorrect completion of an automated memo template", Lowe said.
West was not convinced the date on the memo was a mistake. "The memo was obviously meant to be a big deal and issued on that date, but it wasn't," he said.