Ba­bies play­ing ‘on a mine­field’

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

The lives of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren are at risk be­cause of a ma­jor strat­egy be­ing used in the re­build­ing of Christchurch.

His­toric use of as­bestos in the ceil­ings of old homes has un­der­lined a pre­vi­ously un­de­tected prob­lem.

Build­ing and health ex­perts are dis­put­ing the health risks in­volved and the fu­ture wel­fare of ba­bies is said to be un­der se­cret threat.

An es­ti­mated 40,000 quake dam­aged Christchurch houses are feared to con­tain as­bestos, much of it in ceil­ings. Four thou­sand have ap­par­ently al­ready had un­dam­aged as­bestos ceil­ings sealed off with a new ceil­ing, just be­low the old, still ex­ist­ing as­bestos level.

The Earth­quake Dam­age Author­ity seems to have con­vinced it­self that this dan­ger­ous im­passe is OK, that it is re­spon­si­ble for re­pairs but not au­tho­rised to deal with ac­tual or po­ten­tial as­bestos risks.

Its role, it says, is to sim­ply cover dam­aged as­bestos but that mask­ing of un­dam­aged as­bestos is prac­ti­cal and eth­i­cal and that’s what it’s do­ing.

Can­ter­bury District Health Board Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health Dr Al­lis­tair Thompson – whose le­gal du­ties to pro­tect the pub­lic are un­shake­able – dis­agrees strongly.

He says the tac­tic of two lev­els of ceil­ing is sim­ply dis­guis­ing a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. He la­bels it ‘‘a po­ten­tial health land­mine’’.

He dis­counts the sug­ges­tion that an owner whose house has been given the sec­ond ceil­ing treat­ment would au­to­mat­i­cally pass that fact on to any fu­ture buyer, thus risk­ing los­ing a sale. He talks in hard risk facts.

My lay­man’s di­ag­no­sis: In 10 years, a new owner and DIY black­belt could de­cide to fit down­lights and un­wit­tingly cut­ting through both ceil­ing lev­els could drop a cloud of dan­ger­ous as­bestos dust.

Dr Thompson takes it fur­ther, cit­ing real risk of a baby crawl­ing for months across a car­pet heav­ily im­preg­nated by the killer dust his dad has un­wit­tingly let loose.

As­bestos in their bod­ies might not be de­tected for 20 years when the orig­i­nal cause would not be ob­vi­ous. Dr Thompson says you sim­ply can­not de­pend on an owner nec­es­sar­ily point­ing to the dou­ble ceil­ing and ex­plain­ing why. Surely, the very least that could be done is to in­tro­duce and en­force new reg­u­la­tions which make list­ing the pres­ence of as­bestos and the dou­ble ceil­ing com­pul­sory on the LIM as a fu­ture and con­tin­u­ing warn­ing.

Aras­tou Sha­habi, who has come to New Zealand with a wide back­ground on as­bestos, wrote ex­pertly on the sub­ject in this col­umn last Au­gust.

Then wor­ries were about its pres­ence in the Auck­land’s soon to-be­dis­carded build­ing above Aotea Square. He con­tacted me again a few days ago over more con­cerns we shared, this time when the Christ- church cri­sis be­came pub­lic. He agrees with Dr Thompson – that what is be­ing done there now may be the sim­plest but is surely not the best way to deal with the as­bestos prob­lem. Or to avoid fu­ture risks.

‘‘Find­ing a proper sys­tem­atic ap­proach needs more time and money. Maybe a com­mit­tee in­clud­ing ex­perts with dif­fer­ent spe­cial­ties could come up with the bet­ter out­come. As it is no-one is pre­pared to face the prob­lem of huge amount of as­bestos (in the 4000 houses al­ready dou­ble-ceilinged by re­pair­ers).

‘‘The en­case­ment prac­tice sim­ply means ex­actly that – post­pone­ment rather than solv­ing the prob­lem.

‘‘If they do not take fi­bres out now next gen­er­a­tions will have to do that – a shame­ful process per­haps in 2050 be­cause no-one is tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity now.’’

Reid Steven, who is man­ag­ing the joint Christchurch home re­pair pro­gramme with Fletch­ers, de­scribes the dou­ble ceil­ing process as re­li­able ‘‘fol­low­ing na­tional guide­lines and rec­om­mended prac­tices’’. He points to spe­cial train­ing for re­pair crews.

I ac­cept his sin­cere as­sess­ment but at the same time be­lieve that while what is be­ing done now is the sim­plest, it is still far from the best way of deal­ing with the as­bestos prob­lem.

I can’t get rid of that im­age of gen­er­a­tions of ba­bies play­ing on se­cretly poi­sonous car­pet sur­faces.

Ques­tions: Is there an equiv­a­lent prob­lem in Auck­land? How many dou­ble ceilinged old houses ex­ist in his­toric and now rather chic sub­urbs? In the mail bag: ‘‘I wish to con­grat­u­late you once again on an ex­cel­lent Off Pat col­umn. I en­joyed read­ing about your con­ver­sa­tion/en­counter at the in­vesti­ture in 1981 ... ... . it was touch­ing and en­ter­tain­ing.

‘‘The reader who wrote re­gard­ing medals, mer­its, etc, hits the nail with re­spect to the fact that th­ese days many peo­ple are ‘hon­oured’ for mak­ing money/busi­ness acu­men, etc, and gen­uine phi­lan­thropy should be recog­nised.

‘‘There are very many peo­ple in the coun­try who de­vote count­less hours vol­un­tar­ily – very few would seek praise but it would please many peo­ple to know th­ese won­der­ful peo­ple are recog­nised for their gen­uine, car­ing, and of­ten tire­less ef­forts of be­half of oth­ers.

‘‘We are a coun­try with count­less vol­un­teers, some in small ways and oth­ers car­ing for the less for­tu­nate. I ap­plaud the way you speak out about real is­sues.

‘‘Cricket – well – you put this very elo­quently . . . . I was not aware of the past fig­ures as I am not a cricket fan. But, oh dear, I can­not help won­der­ing about all this fre­quent tur­moil in board­rooms . . . . . seem­ingly some ‘ad­min­is­tra­tors’ are more in­ter­ested in keep­ing their jobs than do­ing their best for the game and the play­ers. It seems a waste of money to send teams overseas when they are play­ing so poorly – per­haps they should stay home, put their house in or­der – stop all the in­ter­fer­ing and al­low a team to set­tle into their true game.

‘‘We have in the past had some first-class play­ers and our teams have done very well. I do not know how to solve the prob­lem but I wish for more sta­bil­ity for the play­ers very soon.’’ – Alma Daw­son Also on cricket: ’’My opin­ion is that as a na­tion of four mil­lion we punch be­yond our weight in­ter­na­tion­ally in sev­eral sports but we don’t shine par­tic­u­larly in bat-and-ball games.

‘‘Yes we have had brief his­toric pe­ri­ods with hockey and cricket. We cur­rently have one ris­ing teenage star in golf, ten­nis play­ers who have trou­ble mak­ing the cut. And cricket!

‘‘Con­trast re­sults in the ABC out­door group: Ath­let­ics, boats and cy­cling. Or if you pre­fer, the four Rs: row­ing, rid­ing, run­ning and rugby.

’’One can spec­u­late on all sorts of rea­sons for success or fail­ure like coach­ing, tal­ent, fi­nance. I think it’s fair to say that we just can’t ex­pect wide­spread won­ders with such a small pop­u­la­tion.

‘‘Let’s en­cour­age domestic involvement in all sports that peo­ple en­joy and have it com­pet­i­tive at both lo­cal and pro­vin­cial level.

‘‘But don’t take it too hard if we can’t al­ways make the grade in­ter­na­tion­ally.’’ – Michael Scan­lan

Reader Brian Ern­shaw was right when he rang to cor­rect Len Hut­ton’s record test score from 354 (as I gave it) to 364. And also not out, when Eng­land de­clared at 903 for seven!

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