Asbestos scare shuts down mail delivery in Christchurch, New Zealand

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Christchurch Mail Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, was evacuated Friday after employees refused to continue working due to exposure to heavy amounts of dust suspected to be asbestos. Tuam 2 Ltd, the company set to convert the 27-year-old Christchurch Mail Centre into a new city council building, has been aware of the presence of asbestos in the building since May 2008. Hawkins Construction contacted the New Zealand Department of Labour, voicing concerns of possible exposure to asbestos material. Testing is currently underway at the facility to determine the nature of the exposure.

The Christchurch Mail Centre is operated by New Zealand Post. According to Christchurch Delivery Business Leader Duncan Burman, approximately 50 post workers operate out of the facility, which services about 35,000 addresses in the central Christchurch region.

Image showing fibrous nature of blue asbestos, a type of asbestos found in Africa and Australia
Image: John Hayman.

According to a paper released in June by the Environment Canterbury on the subject of asbestos removal: "Exposure can occur when materials containing asbestos are sanded, sawn, drilled or handled in maintenance or removal tasks." Exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to the diseases mesothelioma, lung cancer, chest cancer, and asbestosis.

Tony Marryatt, chief executive of the city council, was asked by Councillor Helen Broughton for an explanation of the incident. Councillor Broughton is the only councillor who voted against construction of new city council buildings.

"Councillors made an assumption that the building had been checked by a professional and that's the question I'm going to ask the CEO now. I've asked him for a report on it and I want to see the professional opinion from a building consultant who said that the building was sound and able to be refitted and didn't have any major problems," said Broughton in a statement in The Press.

Cquote1.svg Councillors made an assumption that the building had been checked by a professional and that's the question I'm going to ask the CEO now. Cquote2.svg

—Councillor Helen Broughton

The owners of the Christchurch Mail Centre informed New Zealand Post that testing performed in November confirmed there was no asbestos "in the area".

Cquote1.svg ...we've asked for further air quality checks to be done before people go back in to that environment and we also want the hazard eliminated. Cquote2.svg

—Anna Kenny, Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union

Anna Kenny, a spokesperson for the New Zealand trade union Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union said concerns were raised about plumes of dust Friday morning suspected to be asbestos, but that there has been no confirmation of this yet.

According to The Press, Kenny also confirmed that no asbestos was found in a check of the building in November. "Having said that, however, given that the dust is particularly unpleasant and unsafe and of an unknown source, we've asked for further air quality checks to be done before people go back in to that environment and we also want the hazard eliminated," stated Kenny.


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Sources

Wikipedia Learn more about Asbestos and Christchurch on Wikipedia.
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