An asbestos disposal expert says people should never have been allowed near a Taupo controlled burn which may have had the dangerous susbtance in it.
Terry Coleman, a member of the New Zealand Demolition and Asbestos Association (NZDAA) said bystanders should never have been allowed near the Spa Rd site of three houses which were set alight as part of a fire brigade training exercise.
The potential presence of asbestos was unknown at the time and a large crowd of onlookers watched the exercise a week ago.
Coleman, CEDA Environmental asbestos consultancy company chief executive, who has more than 30 years' experience in the industry, said he is constantly amazed at the recklessness surrounding asbestos in New Zealand.
''You would be surprised by how many people we come across who know someone who has had problems related to asbestos exposure or who has died from it,'' he said.
''With all the rules and regulations which should be in place why does this happen in today's society?''
Coleman said if asbestos was found before the burn there should have been air monitoring to ensure nothing had been missed.
''There are two forms of asbestos.
''When it is friable it crumbles and can become a risk if inhaled but when it is non-friable the asbestos fibres are bound into the product and are not readily released,'' he said.
''The biggest problem [in this case] is that it has been burnt, because by burning it it becomes friable."
He said the rules and regulations around asbestos in New Zealand were lagging behind those of other countries.Coleman said the responsible party for ensuring there was no contamination on neighbours' properties was a ''grey area''.
''Now that it has been burnt there needs to be proper communication between the owners of the problem and neighbours but you would have to seek a legal opinion on who is responsible,'' he said.
He said while the risk to people was likely to be minimal, WorkSafe New Zealand needed to be notified, and an action and removal plan put in place.
Authorities are now dealing with the site but no-one has yet claimed responsibility. Central Lakes Fire Service assistant area commander Hamish Smith said the service was working with the public heath service and the Taupo District Council.
''Prior to the burn, the NZFS had been advised by the contractor on behalf of the owner that all asbestos had been removed,'' he said.
However, Smith said following completion of the exercise, asbestos was found.
Taupo District Council consents and regulatory manager David Greaves said no formal approval for the burn needed to be given by the 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.
''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.''
The Taupo District Council, Waikato Regional Council and the Medical Officer of Health have visited the site, and potentially affected properties, and concluded no further testing is required.
''It is considered that all of the asbestos has been returned to the site and this will be removed by a suitably qualified person next week. Council has [also] spoken to the owner of the property,'' he said.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board medical officer of health James Miller advised people to stay away while the site was being cleared.
- Waikato Times