Asbestos threat

Fred Wesley | Friday, June 2, 2017
THE revelation that people could have been exposed to asbestos in the heart of Suva City will raise some concern.

As our Page 1 report today reveals, the asbestos risk comes in the wake of renovation works carried out at the municipality's civic centre by the Suva City Council (SCC) in recent weeks.

By yesterday, various authorities had warned people not to go within 500 metres of the area for their own safety.

Asbestos are bundles of fibres that are used by construction companies to strengthen cement and plastics as well as for insulation, roofing, fireproofing, and sound absorption. However, asbestos has been classified as a cancer-causing substance that has been banned in several countries around the world. As our report points out, studies have shown that people exposed to asbestos may have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and a cancer of the thin membrane that lines the chest and the abdomen known as mesothelioma. Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP) arranged for PacWaste consultant asbestos experts to conduct inspections at the worksite. Tests came out positive for the presence of amosite and chrysotile asbestos.

While Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations Jone Usamate stressed that the asbestos identified in the SPREP report contained 30 per cent of asbestos from the bulk material tested and was not airborne, appropriate action has been taken.

The SCC, he said, "has also been directed to hire a consultant to immediately undertake air sampling inside the building and areas close to the Suva Civic Centre to ensure that the surrounding does not contain any hazardous material in the air".

Mr Usamate urged people not to panic. He said the chances of air contamination was low due to containment works already undertaken and other materials which may contain asbestos were still intact and posed no threat.

A number of questions will, however, be raised.

How long has work been going on, and when was asbestos first discovered at the work site?

If work has been going on for some time, then considering the great risk and danger to public safety, we wonder why it took so long to alert members of the public?

There is the issue of accountability and responsibility.

The European Union delegation yesterday warned people to stay 500 metres away from the civic centre site.

It warned people driving in the area to do so with closed car windows and with the AC set in close circle mode or switched off.

It said the city centre could be considered a contaminated area.

The scenario also raises some questions about safety requirements and associated risks.

Asbestos is dangerous. We have been warned.

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