31 Mar 2024

Asbestos exposure register should be continued - researcher

5:04 pm on 31 March 2024
Chair Solutions which suffered a fire in July has asbestos in the roof and now workers in the are angry after recieving a positive test for asbestos coating their work vechiles.

Researcher Dr Terri-Ann Berry says she would like to see a centralised, well-maintained asbestos exposure registry that could be used to determine trends in asbestos-related disease and to identify population- and regional-hotspots. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A register of people's exposure to asbestos should not be abandoned, says a researcher into the fibrous mineral's threat to health.

WorkSafe has pulled the plug on a national register, saying it was unreliable and not needed as businesses now gathered their own data.

But associate professor Dr Terri-Ann Berry of AUT's School of Future Environments said the register should be continued and well-maintained to support the 220 people diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases each year.

WorkSafe said it only used the register for research, not for treatment or compensation. Asbestos is the number one workplace killer - but its impacts take years to show up.

"As the time duration between exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma can be in excess of 20 years, this registry is extremely important to enable those who have been exposed to asbestos to maintain a record which can be used at a later date to support an ACC cover and funding application," said Berry, chair of the Mesothelioma Support and Asbestos Awareness Trust.

A register's research value was a reason to keep it open, not close it down, she said.

"I would like to see a centralised, well-maintained registry which is regularly analysed to determine trends in asbestos-related disease and to identify population- and regional-hotspots."

Such such registers had been very important in other countries, she added.

"Our ongoing collaboration with experts in Australia, Italy and America could be used to support the re-introduction of this register but it does require funding and support from the government.

"We are currently on our third attempt to secure government funding to investigate where and how NZers are exposed to asbestos and how we change this."

A journal article that looked into Italy's asbestos register concluded it was good for tackling the threat.

"Public-access national repositories organised at a public institution would be a valuable resource to disseminate knowledge about asbestos-related risk for the general population and to support administrators seeking solutions to reduce population risk," the scientist authors wrote.

"Epidemiological surveillance systems that share scientific results with communities and stakeholders are effective tools for public health and welfare policies. They also help in ensuring exhaustiveness and equity in access to the best available therapeutic protocols for mesothelioma patients."

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