Mobile dental clinic builder mum so far

ELTON SMALLMAN AND FAIRFAX NZ
Last updated 05:00 19/05/2014

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The spokesman for the Hamilton manufacturer of mobile dental clinics which are at the centre of a toxic chemical scare is yet to front up to media questions.

Yesterday, Waikato Times called the after-hours phone of Te Rapa-based company Action Motor Bodies after mobile dental clinics were pulled from service due to what is believed to be high levels of formaldehyde in ceiling tiles.

The firm's website shows it made 94 mobile dental clinics for New Zealand district health boards in 2011 and 2012. The man who answered the phone, giving his name as Chris and refusing to give his surname, said he was enjoying a family day and questions would have to wait another day.

The manufacturing manager of Action Motor Bodies is Chris Devoy.

In Canterbury, dental technicians and thousands of schoolchildren have suffered headaches, skin rashes and itchy eyes.

Canterbury DHB called for a broad spectrum test last month and found formaldehyde levels in the ceiling tiles of vehicles manufactured by Action Motor Bodies were 200 per cent above Workplace Exposure Standards.

They pulled 22 vans from service for testing and decontamination. Other DHBs have started testing, with at least two more vans found to be affected.

Dental therapists had complained about an acrid smell and symptoms of chemical exposure from the vans since March 2013. They suffered headaches, nausea, itchy eyes, runny noses, aggravated asthma and skin irritation.

They feared thousands of primary and preschoolers had been put at risk.

The odour forced Canterbury DHB to order a Chemsafety test that identified high levels of the hazardous chemical styrene in the air.

A new ventilator system was installed last year but the smell persisted and more than 1000 rural schoolchildren have since been treated at the clinic.

The National Union of Public Employees became involved six weeks ago and "refused point-blank" to allow staff back in the vehicles on health and safety grounds.

The DHB called an urgent meeting with staff and offered health monitoring to those suffering from chemical exposure symptoms.

Dr Andrew Hilliard, an independent occupational physician, was unconcerned about the risk to children and workers. He said the long-term risk from minor exposure was "very low".

Worksafe NZ would investigate how the contamination occurred.

Publically listed Tourism Holdings Limited owned Action Motor Bodies and in 2011 secured a $50 million contract to build St John ambulances.

elton.smallman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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- Waikato Times

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