13 Sep 2018

Dust coating cars in a Lower Hutt suburb contains asbestos

5:57 pm on 13 September 2018

The workers in a Lower Hutt suburb are angry after asbestos, exposed when a fire ripped through a building, was found on their cars.

Jason Secto

Jason Secto Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Fibres from asbestos in the Chair Solutions building on Hutt Park Road in Gracefield have been blown by the wind and deposited around the suburb.

Jason Secto found fibres on his car, and workmate Tom Wilson's ute, earlier this week. They immediately sent them for testing.

Capital Environment Services found the dust was positive for chrysotile, a type of white asbestos.

"It's falling apart," Mr Secto said of the building.

"Two days ago we decided to test the fibre on the cars, on the trucks and the dashboard, and it tested positive for the white asbestos.

"Tom's truck was pretty much caked in it."

Chair Solutions which suffered a fire in July has asbestos in the roof

Chair Solutions which suffered a fire in July has asbestos in the roof Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The building fire was on 27 July, with up to 20 fire crews working on the blaze throughout the day.

For the next week, workers in the area watched as the site was maintained and cleaned, but since then it has stopped.

In a statement, Hutt City Council's trade waste manager, Gordon George, said the council didn't commit to spray the site and stop the spread of asbestos.

However, the site's owners and their insurers had committed to managing the site, and the asbestos risk.

"The owners and their insurers employed at least one specialist contractor to manage the site and spray a foam suppressant on any problem areas identified, however rain has limited that need," Mr George said.

"We understand another asbestos contractor took over management of the site last week.

"To date, council has seen nothing regarding site management that makes us uncomfortable. WorkSafe is involved with the demolition plan process and demolition is intended to occur in the very near future.

"It will need to include a means to suppress and manage dust risks."

Mr George said the council had conducted tests of the air quality and found no risk from the asbestos in the building.

Despite that, people working in the area felt more could be done by the council to mitigate any risk from the asbestos.

Danni Mokomoko works in the area and said the council should be on top of the problem.

"The fact that individual tests have been done, that have come back as positive for asbestos really isn't a good sign," Mr Mokomoko said.

"You'd expect them to let all the local businesses know what's going on so they can judge what to do for their staff, and for themselves."

Mr Secto said the building would have been dealt with better and faster if it had been somewhere other than an industrial area.

"All I can say, is that if this structure was dropped in the CBD, it would be wrapped in two hours," Mr Secto said.

"There's no way it should be exposed like that, and if you're exposed to this day in, day out, without it being wrapped, you probably would suffer the consequences down the track."

Mr Secto had only been working in the street for a week, but said he started to feel ill before he got the dust tested.

On Wednesday, he went to a doctor because he'd had nose bleeds, but they couldn't tell him if he'd suffered asbestos poisoning.

"It takes 10 years to tell if you've been poisoned, so there's no way to tell."

Mr Secto is worried about his health and that was echoed by other workers in the area.

Firefighters tackling a large blaze in a commercial building in the Lower Hutt suburb of Gracefield.

The fire in July Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

RNZ talked to six businesses in the Hutt Park Road and all of them were concerned about the consequences of having asbestos blowing around the street.

None had seen contractors spraying the site in the past six weeks but several had seen dust coating their vehicles.

The owner of Chair Solutions, the contractor tasked with maintaining the site, and WorkSafe have all been approached for comment.

A spokesperson for WorkSafe said the site was not currently a workplace, and therefore was not under their jurisdiction.

"The Hutt City Council has issued a notice requiring the building owner to remedy any contamination," they said.

"It is for the building owner and the Hutt City Council who issued the notice to ensure that the notice is being complied with, not WorkSafe.

"We are advised that regular monitoring was undertaken by an independent third party for five weeks (ending one week ago) and the results have not shown elevated levels of asbestos. We have not been advised why the testing was halted."