13 Feb 2019

Families forced out due to asbestos contamination

From Checkpoint, 5:24 pm on 13 February 2019

Two Hastings families forced out of their homes are frustrated they still don't know when they'll be able to return, three weeks after they had to leave due to asbestos contamination.

Anthony Manley said a contractor hired by his landlord for a paint job water blasted the roof - knowing it could contain asbestos - on 21 January.

His wife Natalie questioned if their home was safe while the contractor worked on the roof, and was assured it was, he said.

But the whole place ended up being covered in paint dust, including outside furniture and kids' equipment - all which must be thrown out.

Worksafe was notified and issued a prohibition notice on the rental property the following day, after testing identified the presence of asbestos.

The Manley family of five have been in limbo ever since, living in a hotel and book-a-bach their landlord is paying for. It has been a stressful experience, especially for their 10-year-old son who has severe behavioural issues.

"His anxiety levels are going through the roof," Mr  Manley said.

"This is not good for him. I have a four-year-old daughter, she almost made me cry yesterday when she said 'daddy, I want to go home '… that's really heart-breaking because you know you've got a home and you can't take your kids there."

The family, who have not been inside their home in more than three weeks, return every day to feed their cats. They go home to what Mr Manley describes as a fenced-off "bomb site".

The entire yard is now covered in black plastic and it is understood the grass will have to be removed.

"The testers came through and it's actually in the roof cavity itself. All the carpet has to be taken up, all our bedding has to be done. Everything inside is contaminated. We can only keep the hard surface stuff, but everything else has to go."

No caption

Photo: RNZ/ Nick Monro

The contamination has forced the family next door out as well.

Neighbour Abbey Hillman said her landlord, Housing New Zealand, gave her family of eight - including a son with a rare medical condition - just two hours to leave. That was on 25 January, two days after she first contacted them with concerns about the property.

"That afternoon [HNZ] turned up at 4pm with a $200 gift voucher for Pak'n'Save and $200 gas vouchers and pretty much told me I had to get out of that house today. She couldn't find us any accommodation in Hawke's Bay so we were given the opportunity of finding somewhere else to go and we did say Whakatane as we have family there.

"It was pretty stressful because we're a family of eight. We can't just really turn up on someone's doorstep and be like 'hey, can you take us in for the weekend', it's like a lot of planning for that."

Just like the Manley's, the Hillman family has been in limbo for three weeks, living out of their suitcases while their children start school for the year. Both families told Checkpoint it had been a huge mess, and they just wanted to go home.

Housing New Zealand said it was notified about the possibility of contamination on 23 January and conducted testing the following day. On 25 January it received results showing there were traces of asbestos on the exterior of the property. It said it had provided the family with alternative accommodation, and apologised for the inconvenience.

"After asbestos removal took place, more testing was carried out. On February 8, we received the results and discovered that a small portion of the land at Kiwi Street had traces of asbestos. We then fenced this area off."

Further testing took place today. HNZ said it hoped the family would be able to return to their home in the next week, but Ms Hillman, who is heavily pregnant, said she wants assurance from a medical professional that the house is safe to go home to.

Checkpoint contacted the contractor, who said he would not be making any comment. Worksafe said it was working with local councils and the DHB to ensure the asbestos was safely removed and the property was safe. It said it had completed its initial inquiries and would not be investigating further.