Residents angry after asbestos burnt in fire

Last updated 05:00 29/08/2014

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A group of Taupo residents and business owners are furious they may have been exposed to asbestos during a controlled burning of three houses.

The Central Lakes Area Fire Service used the houses in Spa Road for training volunteer firefighters on Saturday and it was later confirmed that asbestos was found.

The small fibres in asbestos can cause fatal diseases. Asbestos is a group of minerals made up of small fibres and, according to the Ministry of Health, it is a risk when breathed in as fine dust.

Advocacy group Asbestos.com states that although it is heat-resistant it can be highly toxic in fires because of smoke often carrying minute fibres.

A source said asbestos was found in one of the houses before it was burnt, but it was given the all clear by the Taupo District Council once it was removed.

However, according to a letter from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board issued to some residents by The Taupo District Council, at the completion of the exercise, asbestos-containing material was still discovered in the building.

Although some residents have received the letter, others, including those directly opposite the site, have not.

One neighbour said she had been breathing in the smoke all day and had not been told asbestos had been found.

"Everyone was there and there were people coughing," she said.

Another neighbour and former nurse said she had no idea they were at risk.

"My understanding with the exposure to asbestos is that the effects don't necessarily show up for years," she said.

"I would like to know what the council is going to do about this as our houses were all covered in the smoke and there are still bits of building material blowing down the street."

A nearby business owner said the situation was unacceptable.

"To expose all the people that were here watching and the firemen, who I have the utmost respect for, it is just diabolical and someone needs to be held accountable," he said.

Central Lakes Fire Service assistant area commander Hamish Smith said the service was working with the public heath service and council on the matter.

"Prior to the house burn, the NZFS had instructed and been advised by the contractor on behalf of the owner that all asbestos had been removed," he said.

The council's consents and regulatory manager, David Greaves, said there was no formal approval needed or given by the Taupo District Council.

"The New Zealand Fire Service used this as an exercise, which is a permitted activity under the Regional Plan, and they did all the preparation work," he said.

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"We were aware the exercise was taking place but only became involved once it was suspected asbestos was present, had this not occurred we would have had no involvement at all."

Greaves said the BoP DHB medical officer of health had provided guidelines for the decontamination of any affected properties.

"At this stage we believe it is limited to one property in the immediate vicinity," he said.

He said the amount of asbestos was believed to be minor, with indications showing it had been used in soffits and a portion of cladding on one small building.

"We advised the contractor who was in charge to secure the site on Monday after it was suspected asbestos was present. Testing was undertaken and a positive result was received on Tuesday. The site had already been secured at this point," he said.

"The Taupo District Council, Waikato Regional Council and the medical officer of health have [also] attended the site and it is believed all materials have been secured."

BoP DHB medical officer of health James Miller advised people to stay away from the site and not touch any building materials while it was being professionally cleared. luke.kirkeby@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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